Traditionally, business travel has always been “policy first”. When travellers remain on policy we save money and control risk. Duty of care is also manageable. Everyone is happy.
Enter the millennial workforce, often called the “job-hopping generation”, and the game changes. Deloitte surveyed 10445 millennials born between 1983 and December 1994 and found that 43% plan to leave their current jobs within two years and only 28% plan to stay beyond five years. As recruitment and training costs climb, companies are placing a monetary value on staff happiness and fulfillment. When travel makes up a dominant part of a given role, employees not only need to be happy at their desks but also while they are travelling. Not to mention, a tired employee getting off a delayed and cramped flight has not been given the tools to be the most effective at the job at hand.
This is by no means a revolutionary concept. The traveller experience has always been a factor in programme management. The problem is that optimising the traveller experience is becoming more and more challenging. Business travellers expect to see the same ease of booking and quality travel experience they receive when they travel for leisure. Falling below that leaves a poor impression of the company and their dedication towards their staff. When a cost-cutting and policy-driven programme competes with the vast options available in leisure travel this can easily happen.
Travel managers need to create a programme that is appreciated and accepted by the senior stakeholders controlling the budget as well as travellers who want a straightforward and quality trip. A “people” not “policy” first strategy is the first step.
Making the move from “policy first” to “people first” travel management
This involves a transformation of the programme to move from being “policy first” to “people first”. Considering the diverse range of people’s needs it seems like an impossible ordeal. Luckily, there has been some research investigating the common pain points that most travellers experience.
According to 2018 research carried out by TripActions and Skift, delayed or cancelled flights were the number one work travel challenge, mentioned by 55% of respondents. Another 46% mentioned missed flights, while another 34% mentioned the stress related to booking.
We believe that the right approach and improved infrastructure can make this process a lot easier. There are four easy steps to achieve this.
1. Improve OBT capability and adoption
In the TripActions survey, 41% of travellers said that company-provided tools were “not as good” as what they used for leisure trips. Another third said they have no flexibility to prioritise their personal travel preferences.
Before we examine personalisation, the useability of these tools is less than ideal. Based on mainframes built in the 1980s, many legacy OBTs make the booking process for even the simplest of trips a clunky, complicated process. As a result, many travellers do not use these tools.
The simple answer would be to promote policy to drive more online booking adoption, but a “people first” methodology aims to improve the tools so the policy is more desirable.
Incorporating easy-to-use booking tools in favour of clunky legacy tools is the first step. Next, we give travellers better choices. This is why booking tools are increasingly using personalisation algorithms organising travel options based on the traveller’s booking history and personal preferences.
Mobile booking tools are also becoming a serious consideration as booking travel through agents and on desktops is not what most travellers are used to doing in their own time. Travel programmes that gravitate towards these tools are guaranteed to have improved corporate booking tool adoption.
2. Have a lenient travel policy and the visibility to accommodate it
40% of travellers reported their biggest frustration with their existing travel policy was the requirement that they book their travel through a company-provided tool.
Knowing this, you can bet that a strict policy would not be appreciated, even if the tool is improved. That is why a programme needs to be more flexible.
When more choices are added to a restaurant menu, the chef needs to learn to cook them. In a people-first programme, we need to have the visibility to accommodate travellers making choices that are less easy to capture and manage.
Take the sharing economy, for example. In the Skift and TripActions survey, 69% of travellers said that they would prefer to use sharing economy providers than book through the corporate tool.
We need to make sure the programme has the technology to capture the data from this new platform that, for the most part, is not integrated into most existing data management software or TMC data. It’s not just the sharing economy that needs to be monitored. Any payment or booking method used needs to be accounted for.
When you upgrade the infrastructure to improve visibility, policy-first programmes will find that the perceived risk and duty of care consequences involved in going off-channel becomes significantly smaller.
3. Make sourcing decisions based on real – not fantasy – demand.
Instead of enforcing and promoting policy to drive demand ahead of supplier negotiations, rather choose suppliers that travellers will use without the reminder.
The key to achieving this is improved visibility. Use data metrics to “score” each supplier based on real-time demand. If there are drops in demand, it’s worth looking at why this is. Are preferred routes/rooms often unavailable? Are certain carriers often disrupted? These are need-to-know facts before evaluating any RFP.
4. Be proactive about disruption
Although there is little we can do about it, the Skift survey outed flight disruption as the number one pain point in the traveller experience. The problem is, most travel managers don’t know when disruption happens until the travellers complain about it and/or rack up additional charges in last-minute tickets, hotel bookings and overtime charges.
Modern travel management needs to look beyond TMC, expense and credit card data to examine other data sources like airline operational data. In 2018, we worked with Flightglobal to track the cost of disruption to Genentech’s US travel programme. By merging airline operational data into the standard trip summary, we could see which routes and carriers were commonly affected. Again, this is good to know when making supplier management decisions.
Better yet, if we have this visibility in a real-time environment, we can “take care” of our travellers. If disruption is noticed immediately, or, better yet, predicted, then automated actions can rebook flights and notify the travel team. Travellers will feel taken care of and less frustrated.
The key to all this is visibility. A travel policy is just a theory of how a traveller “might” behave. If we have the visibility into how travellers actually behave and we build our travel programme around it, we will find that driving demand and creating better traveller engagement is not so difficult after all.