There seems to be a shift taking place within the corporate travel industry that says there are benefits to building and evaluating a traveler satisfaction program with traveler experience — rather than tools — at the heart of it all. In other words, companies are starting to explore who wins when travel managers focus not just on, “Are travelers happy with my program?” but also, “Does my program make travelers happy?”

Earlier in 2019, Dinova, a total business dining solution, partnered with the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) to explore the link between traveler experience and traveler satisfaction. The company surveyed 215 travel buyers based in the U.S. to find out how companies are thinking about the wants and needs of their business travelers.

Here, we look at five key takeaways about business traveler satisfaction and how companies — those that are already embracing it, those that are planning to, and those that aren’t yet considering it — are (or are not) thinking about it.

1) Traveler satisfaction is about to go big. According to the survey, only one in five companies currently have a traveler satisfaction program in place. But another 29 percent said they’re in the process of implementing a program, the majority of which will be complete within the next 24 months. This means that over the next two to three years, at least half of companies out there will have created traveler satisfaction programs.

Additionally, those companies that do have a program in place tend to be large companies, meaning they have the power to influence others. More than three-quarters of such companies have more than 5,000 employees, 57 percent have a global reach, and 62 percent have an annual travel spend of over $30 million. The conversation around traveler satisfaction — and the actions it’s spurring — is only just beginning.

2) Traveler satisfaction goes beyond hotel, air, and ground transportation. Most travel managers realize the importance of getting “the big three” right. The majority of companies with a traveler satisfaction program in place reported that “hotel,” “air” and “ground transportation” categories drive “significant satisfaction” for their travelers, at 79 percent, 76 percent, and 61 percent, respectively. But they say the same of “bleisure,” which, at 78 percent, had the highest response rate of driving traveler satisfaction after hotels.

Additionally reinforcing this “bigger picture” approach: Respondents with traveler satisfaction programs in place also reported addressing things like “in-air Wi-Fi” and other ancillary expense categories in their programs more frequently than organizations without traveler satisfaction programs. They’re increasingly including guidelines for dining-related expenses, such as “refreshments” (69 percent), “room service” (57 percent), and “food delivery” (44 percent), which seems to indicate a growing awareness of traveler satisfaction levers that live outside of the typical air-hotel-transportation boxes.

3) More expense mandates lead to more clarity and greater buy-in. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but companies with traveler satisfaction programs actually include more travel policy parameters than companies without such programs.

There’s nothing particularly notable about the fact that 72 percent of companies that have created traveler satisfaction programs have “preferred hotel suppliers.” But these companies are also more than twice as likely than other companies to provide “per diem breakdowns by meal,” and are much more likely to have “rate and per diem maximum for certain cities” (60 percent, compared to 50 percent of companies overall), and “corporate card mandates” (79 percent, compared to 63 percent of companies overall).

What’s more, these companies reported that 79 percent of their employees are satisfied with their credit card mandates. This seems to indicate that rather than resenting such parameters, travelers appreciate knowing exactly when they are expected to use their cards, how much they can spend, and can avoid concerns around expense approval.

4) Business traveler satisfaction impacts the entire company. While the decision to send an employee on a business trip hardly ever starts with the travel department, travel buyers nevertheless shoulder the lion’s share of responsibility over the experience. Interestingly, the Dinova study shows that having a program in place may be helping spread traveler satisfaction awareness into other departments.

Four out of five companies with traveler satisfaction programs reported measuring the effectiveness of their traveler satisfaction efforts by using the calculable values involved with cost and compliance — for example, money saved and in-network purchasing rates — to supplement more qualitative traveler feedback. But they also reported working across teams, looping in others from finance, operations, human resources, and internal communications, to define shared KPIs and develop additional ways of measuring travel ROI.

With this buy-in from multiple stakeholders, organizations are better able to calculate the actual costs of business travel. They also create more visibility into how the effects of business travel — in the form of everything from deals closed, to impacts on recruitment, and even employee health — trickle down throughout the company and can take a more strategic approach to how they structure their program.

5) The traveler satisfaction conversation will continue to evolve. Whether they have a traveler satisfaction program or not, companies are shifting their corporate travel policies to boost traveler happiness. Currently, traveler buyers across the board say they’re looking to integrate more technology into the travel experience, improve the expense management process, or use employee data to offer a more personalized booking and travel experience, to do so. All of these make sense, given the fact that tech-friendly millennials are expected to account for half of the workforce by 2020.

This also makes traveler satisfaction more than just a hot topic. It is increasingly rising to the top of concerns for company leaders and travel managers. The good news is that even if a company is not ready to fully embark on a traveler satisfaction overhaul, there are still small changes they can make to start moving in that direction. As the conversation continues to evolve, so will the opportunities for companies to get involved.

To learn more about how the convergence between traveler experience and traveler satisfaction, download Dinova’s white paper here.

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