Many employees — especially millennials — consider business travel to be a perk. But for businesses themselves, especially small and medium enterprises, it comes at a cost. While the benefits of business travel are evident — face-to-face meetings have high success rates — companies are constantly looking for ways to offer benefits with business travel without increasing their costs.

“There is a need for a simple business travel solution for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that allows employees to have autonomy over their travel booking, while simultaneously providing corporate travel managers with the necessary oversight,” said Jonathan Kaplan, vice president of global sales strategy at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG).

On average, 37 percent of hotel bookings and 15 percent of airline bookings are made outside of the travel policy of a company, according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). This is often because employees are looking for ways to gain more control over their travel, which might be because they want to extend their business trip for leisure purposes, are looking for better travel rewards, or have specific travel preferences that their corporate travel policy just does not satisfy.

Therefore, the solution to preventing out-of-policy bookings is to ensure that employees have more to gain when they book within company travel guidelines versus when they book outside of them. IHG Business Edge, the free-to-use corporate travel solution designed specifically for small and medium enterprises, provides travel managers a way to give attractive benefits to employees. This, as a result, increases in-policy bookings, drives savings for the company, and simplifies travel management overall.

“With IHG Business Edge, we sought to create a solution that enables seamless booking experiences for employees,” said Doug Abbott, director of small and medium enterprise strategy at IHG. “We created a solution that is channel agnostic. Travelers can book with their corporate discounts on our website or on the IHG mobile app, via their travel management company or through their employers’ online booking tool by using their unique corporate ID. The travel manager can provide employees with the corporate ID, which is available on the IHG Business Edge portal. Then, no matter how employees make their reservations, as long as they use their corporate ID, the booking will be visible to the travel manager via the company dashboard on the IHG Business Edge portal.”

The platform works with the traveler’s IHG Rewards Club account as well. Employees automatically get upgraded to ‘Gold Elite’ loyalty tier after their first stay and can use his or her corporate ID to get discounted booking rates for their personal travels as well.

For a large hospitality company like IHG, which has a very clear understanding of what business travelers need and want, “We realized that while we have the expertise to cater to small and medium enterprises, we did not have a specific solution or product for them. With IHG Business Edge, we have put together a full-service portal that utilizes our existing expertise and customer insights to give travel managers a solution that’s easy to manage and employees benefits that they want,” added Kaplan.

While developing the platform, one of the things that IHG discovered by speaking to those responsible for managing travel at small and medium enterprises was that oftentimes, booking travel was only a part of a travel manager’s responsibility. “All they want to do is log in to the platform, get an overview of spend, make sure they are within budget, and move on with the rest of their day,” said Abbott.

They are also often looking for relevant content to help them create and manage travel policies better. “We provide educational content around corporate travel strategy, policies, and tips and tricks for managing travel more efficiently. We’re also launching a forum where members can connect with their peers from similar industries to seek advice, discuss topics relevant to their business, and address common pain-points,” added Abbott.

For hospitality brands looking to grow their enterprise business, being able to integrate with a company’s existing booking system is a prerequisite. If a company works with a booking platform like Concur, the corporate rates from hotels should be able to flow into that platform and provide the same discounts. “Our goal is to make the experience easy and simple for both travel managers and employees. Multiple logins and platforms just won’t work, so we make sure that employees have access to our corporate rates via their preferred booking channel,” said Kaplan.

As small and medium-sized businesses continue to grow their travel spend, corporate travel solutions must take their unique needs into account. One way that IHG Business Edge is preparing for the future is by planning to partner with other travel providers such as car rental companies and airlines to provide a one-stop solution for all business travel needs.

As Abbott explained, “We want to be able to offer additional benefits or a higher loyalty status with our travel partners. We already offer exclusive perks to IHG Business Edge members and their employees, such as additional discounts with some of our partners when they join. We want to be more than a discount program though, and as we continue to learn more about our customers, we will offer networking opportunities and other events to empower today’s travel managers to make the best choices for their companies.”

This content was created collaboratively by IHG and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.