The unglamorous lives of business travellers in Asia
Spacious, business class seats. Beautiful views at 30,000 feet above ground. Daily room service. And new sights, sounds and adventures at every corner.
To many of us, the life of a business traveller seems exactly as glamorous as this. After all, this is a job that pays you to fly. What could be better than that?
Well, many things, apparently.
A study commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board discovered that 69 percent of Southeast Asia’s population of travellers consist of “young digital millennials.” And increasingly, younger business travellers are seeking better travel options. They’re looking for more autonomy and richer experiences — and hence, more flexible travel policies from their companies.
The same survey also found that Asian business travellers are twice as likely as their Europeans counterparts to extend their business trips to include weekends. Clearly, they love to travel.
But it’s probably not because of the glamour of the globetrotting lifestyle.
Based on the fact that 41 percent of them are willing to fly low-cost carriers for business, it’s safe to say that to these individuals, the point of travelling is not about the surface luxuries, and that few actually get to enjoy them.
Here is a look at the struggles business travellers in Asia have to deal with.
When you’re always on the go, flying from place to place around the globe, you’ll have to readjust your body clock all the time. Imagine travelling from Singapore to the United States for a week, then jetting off to Australia after, and spending a few days in Japan before returning back home.
If these trips are back to back, there would practically be no time for you to get used to the different time zones in each country. Instead, you’ll be stuck with wildly unstable sleep times and eating patterns that wreck your mood, memory, concentration and the overall health of your brain and body.
Because of the irregular work schedule and far-flung work locations, business travellers miss out on many significant occasions happening back home. Not to mention, business travel can get awfully lonely.
If these travellers have the freedom to choose more convenient flight times, or hotels with proper fitness facilities, they might be able to lead more balanced lifestyles without compromising on such vital things as health and family.
Unfortunately, such flexibility isn’t quite the norm.
Not being able to pick preferred accommodation and transportation options
You might want to stay at an Airbnb apartment, located a convenient distance away from a place of work. Or you might not mind taking a ride into town, but are a bit more particular about the comfort of the hotel room you stay in.
As a business traveller, you don’t always get to choose either of those things.
The same goes for flights and transportation. Older folks craving for comfort might be stuck with cheap economy seats, while the younger generation of shared riders and Airbnb regulars might be forced to overspend on more traditional options.
Even when you get some freedom of choice, you’re usually only allowed to pick from a pre-approved list of options — and you can be sure that most of them won’t match your expectations.
Being unaware of company travel policies
Most of us aren’t used to reading the fine print. And this happens to business travellers too, even when there might be serious consequences.
When you’re not familiar with your company’s travel policies, things can get complicated in the long run. You may be able to get away with it in the beginning, but you’ll end up with more problems than you’d anticipated.
There’s also the issue of unclear policies, leaving employees confused and frustrated. Let’s say they’re not entirely sure of what qualifies as acceptable payment. This will lead to delays and rejections in the reimbursement process.
Some companies employ strict policies as well, the kind that makes business travelling all the more stressful and unpleasant.
Picture a young employee taking in the wonders and luxuries of business travel, blissfully unaware of the restrictive travel policies that will turn their adventure into a pit of regret upon returning home.
Keeping track of receipts and expenses
This is one of the most troublesome aspects of business travel, but it’s a necessary evil — at least, if you want to get your money back.
If you do, you’ll have to keep every single receipt, from that quick cup of coffee in the morning to that train ticket to town. And for business travellers who have meetings to prepare for and places to be on their minds, it’s almost impossible to record and remember each transaction without missing a thing or two.
Besides, who wants to be bogged down by such obligations when you’re absorbing a fresh environment, meeting new people, and experiencing a different culture?
If you think it’s not that difficult asking for a receipt every time, consider this. Business travellers have to write up an expense report detailing each transaction — especially the big ones.
Here’s a case in point: meals with major clients. You’ll need the specifics of each — when and where you went for the meal, which client you ate with, how many people you were with, the purpose of that meal, and any crucial discussions you had.
So it’s not just about having a file for your receipts. It’s also making notes for each purchase in case you forget which meal was for pure pleasure, and which was for business.
Not getting reimbursed for expenses quickly
After filing your expense report, the next thing is to wait for the reimbursements, which can take such a long time to process that you’d likely be jetting off to yet another new location before it’s done.
What’s more, it involves ploughing through a ton of paperwork, which isn’t a very productive use of your time. Instead of getting actual work done or even taking care of things at home, you’re tied down by these menial, administrative tasks.
And these delays can go up to months, if you’re unlucky.
Slow reimbursements are also a particular pet peeve for younger employees who are fresh out of college and aren’t earning very much.
Each trip can set them back by more than $2,000. If they take several trips in a month, they’ll either go over their credit limit, or empty their bank accounts faster than they’re getting paid. Don’t forget that they still have bills to pay and loans to settle.
With late travel reimbursements, these millennial business travellers will end up feeling flat broke — just like when they were still students. And for the company, that’s not a good place for employees to be in.
Making business travel enjoyable again
It’s a shame that the once-glamorous notion of business travel has been reduced to yet another chore that employees need to take on. The onus lies on companies to make business travel something that employees look forward to once again — and they’ll need better tools for that.