The Changing Landscape of Business Travel

Business travel is an extension of the workplace. When employees come to work, business leaders want them to feel focused, inspired and motivated to do great work and enjoy the experience as much as possible. This helps them to keep coming back each day, excited and eager as the last.

Businesses have invested a lot of time, effort and consideration into building their company cultures. In fact, 78% place culture among the top three or the top five value drivers of their company (Research Dissertation, 2016). A strong positive culture can enhance employee engagement by 30%, resulting in up to a 19% increase in operating income, and a 28% increase in earnings growth (Building Design and Construction, 2016).

But how many companies have looked at their corporate travel practices to ensure these experiences replicate the experiences offered at the office?

Artificial intelligence-powered travel assistant app Mezi conducted a survey of 500 frequent business travelers in the U.S. to get a read on where things stand today, and what types of changes would make for a better travel experience more directly aligned with the company’s culture (Survey commissioned by Mezi via SurveyMonkey, 2017).

The survey found that today, the majority of people believe their corporate travel policy only moderately (at best) aligns with their overall company culture (52%).

When the group was asked what their company prioritizes when it comes to corporate travel, an overwhelming majority cited saving money and time (79%) over employee well-being or happiness (21%). While 30% of people are excited about traveling for business, a whopping 50% of people feel stressed or indifferent about traveling for business, and one-third (37%) of people feel burnt out, frustrated or unmotivated returning to work from a business trip.

Companies must strike a balance between looking after employees’ needs, and the business’s bottom line — but there are small adjustments that can be made to make employees feel better about their time representing your business on the road, and happier, more productive members of your workforce.

As our workplaces continue to evolve with new technologies, generations of workers and expectations from employees, it’s time to put more thought into business travel and updating corporate travel policies to reflect the changing face of today’s workplace.

Considerations for today’s traveler

Business + Leisure = Bleisure

A business trip is traditionally about getting in, completing the task at hand, and getting back as quickly as possible.

With an influx of younger workers into the workforce (Millennials took 7.4 business trips in the past year, compared to 6.4 for Gen Xers and 6.3 for baby boomers (MMGY Global, 2016)), this mentality has changed. More than ever, workers are eager to take advantage of their business travel opportunities by tacking on additional time for personal holidays.

This is a growing trend called Bleisure, which is the practice of taking a few personal days to either end of a business trip in order to enjoy personal time in the location of the business engagement. While employees do incorporate some personal time into work travel, 27% say they are not sure of the policies on leisure activities during business trips (SmallBizClub, 2015).

Employees who take advantage of their corporate travel opportunities to take personal time off are using no more company resources than they would ordinarily. They are, however, getting a unique opportunity to pursue personal interests, and have their company to thank for it.

Travel Tech

As consumers, your employees are used to having access to the latest technologies and greatest services at their fingertips — from skipping lines at Starbucks by placing their order on the app, to snapping a picture to purchase an item, there is very little that can’t be done from a mobile device.

So why are so many companies relying on archaic systems to book, manage and coordinate corporate travel — or no technology at all? New technologies and efficiencies have been introduced to the corporate travel industry in recent years that bring a next-level booking and management experience to business and employees, making the overall process of business travel that much less complicated and stressful.

Updating your corporate travel policy

Importance of a well-managed travel policy

Before an organization addresses company culture on the road, the first step should be to ensure the fundamentals of your corporate travel policy and booking process are in good shape. Nearly one-third of people surveyed believe their corporate travel policy is ill-managed (27%), and the implications of an ill-managed travel policy and process are telling:

  • 43% are more likely to have negative feelings toward business travel,
  • 84% report returning from business travel feeling tired, burnt out, frustrated or unmotivated, and
  • majority of people (56%) believe their corporate travel policy only moderately (at best) aligns with overall company culture.

Lack of formal process and outdated booking systems are major factors in ill-managed policies. When most employees are booking their business travel directly (43%) or don’t have a formal process to follow (23%), they waste a significant amount of time and energy before they’re even on the road for their next journey.

When reviewing your existing travel policy, or considering criteria to craft a corporate travel policy for your business, areas to focus on include the following:

Booking Policy & Process

A clear travel policy makes for a smoother, faster booking process. When there’s no clear policy for hotel or car rental expectations, unnecessary waste of time and monetary resources may occur.

Spend time creating clear booking policies for basic elements of corporate travel, such as transportation (flight, train, etc.), hotel/lodging, rental cars and travel meals. Then, make considerations for other common expenses that arise during business travel, including local travel costs (parking, cabs, metros), client/team entertainment and hotel Internet fees.

If you’re exploring adding a formal Bleisure program to your corporate travel policy, here are some questions to consider to help determine which/how Bleisure elements are best suited for your business:

  • Which elements of our current company culture are best suited to extend on the road? What do employees value most in the ‘perks’ and culture we offer?
  • Where, how and why does our corporate travel policy determine a personal and business expense?
  • If an employee brought a non-work companion along, how are lodging, transportation, and other expenses reimbursed? If we’re paying these costs for one person, does it make a difference that someone else is tagging along?
  • Is there a maximum number of vacation days we’ll allow an employee to tack onto a business trip?
  • Are there certain types of trips where we’d not be able to accommodate an added Bleisure element? Which trips, and why?

Introduce Bleisure Perks

Today, less than half of all frequent travelers surveyed believe their corporate travel policy aligns with overall company culture (48%). Incorporating a formal policy on Bleisure is an excellent way to extend company culture on the road with employees.

A corporate travel policy that incorporates, addresses and even encourages employees to take Bleisure time could go a long way in boosting employee morale, maximizing workforce productivity and ultimately make your company a more successful and enjoyable place to work.

Adding Bleisure elements to your corporate travel policy doesn’t require an expensive overhaul or massive budget increases for corporate travel, but rather some thoughtful updates and additions that give employees more clarity and understanding of their options for personal time and activities while they’re traveling for business.

Take a look at the perks and benefits you provide to employees at the office, and get creative for how you can replicate the experiences on the road. Some thought starters to consider as you form your company’s Bleisure policy:

  • Flexible schedule, challenging/motivating work, interesting projects/clients and work-life balance are the top for attributes frequent travelers report valuing in their company’s culture.
  • Employees who’ve taken Bleisure trips say that adding leisure days to business travel adds value to their work assignments and benefits them as an employee, while giving them the opportunity to gain cultural experience and knowledge (Profile of the American Bleisure Traveler, 2016).
  • The decision to book Bleisure is driven by the experiences available, such as attending a concert or sporting event — over loyalty programs or buying material goods.

Upgrading Your Technology

The business travel industry still heavily relies on decades-old technology solutions, which aide travel agencies and their clients to access travel data, shop for and compare reservation options, and book travel. But today, those systems are outdated and far from consumer friendly.

Advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning technology have helped automate the travel booking process, alleviating common pain points in booking business travel such as reentering employee travel preferences each time you make a new reservation, resulting in time, energy, and money wasted.

Companies like Mezi, which utilizes these new technologies to add a new level of efficiency for the corporate travel agent on the backend, also present a seamless and personalized experience for the end-user, positively affecting a business’s bottom line in the long run.

  • For the business traveler, Mezi offers an AI-powered personal travel assistant, accessible 24/7 through a simple messaging interface. Mezi provides a useful end-user experience for the business traveler by serving up the personalized experience traditional travel agents provide with a more convenient, immediate experience — all with the mobility and text-message style interface that consumers have come to expect in their digital services and products.
  • For the travel agent/TMC, Mezi offers agents access to its travel booking platform through a next generation Agent Dashboard. Travel agents can review recommendations powered by Mezi’s AI-powered recommendations for flights, hotels and dining reservations, increasing their productivity and utilization by 5x. Human agents in corporate travel departments and TMCs will be able to scale the accounts they manage with a level of personalization, efficiency and detail unprecedented in the world of business travel management.
  • For the business, Mezi will change how business travel planning is booked by offering a streamlined process, eliminating unnecessary work and positively affecting the business’ bottom line, ultimately improving employee retention, company culture and individual productivity. When an employer offers a Mezi travel assistant to their employees, they will view it as a perk.

How Mezi works:

  • Mezi gathers requirements and preferences from each employee (or employer) related to their preferred travel accommodations (from flights and car rentals, to hotels and dining inclinations) and learns to build profile preferences over time, using a natural language messaging interaction that is more enjoyable from an end-user experience.
  • Mezi goes beyond the booking process to assist the business traveler while on the road to make recommendations on things to do and sights to see in the area, as well as managing changes to itineraries (e.g. rescheduling cancelled flights, arranging for extended hotel stays) and handling all travel-related payment transactions.

Conclusion

As work and life continue to merge and evolve, businesses must adapt the way they facilitate, plan, build and manage their corporate travel policies to accommodate today’s workforce. With the advancements in technology and insight into employee behavior and preferences, business decision makers have access to the insight and tools they need to construct a best-in-class travel policy, suited for the needs to their employees.


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