Expectations of today's business traveler have shifted, forcing a rethink for travel managers looking to strike the right balance.
Business travel has some familiar challenges and a new set of expectations for employees and travel managers.
A new State of Business Travel report, from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and Uber for Business, shows that U.S. business travelers characterize their current business travel volume as either “more frequent” (39% of respondents) or “about the same” (29%) compared with 2019.
The business travel recovery depends on the industry, said Michelle Lisowski, Senior Director of Global Partnerships at Uber for Business. For example, those in consulting who need to meet clients find business travel essential. Others, specifically in tech, were not quite back to pre-pandemic levels.
Lisowski said Uber for Business had seen a 40% increase in bookings on its platform in the first quarter from a year earlier, with a current total of 170,000 customers across 10,000 cities.
The report revealed that some 87% of U.S. business travelers surveyed believe travel is essential or helpful in achieving business goals, and close to half of the respondents said they have added more leisure time to their business trips in the past year.
The research, however, revealed a disconnect when it comes to travel managers needing to balance costs, employee compliance, and the shift to greener travel policies. Suzanne Neufang, GBTA’s CEO, said it uncovered “opportunities to improve communication on travel policies and cost saving measures to achieve a financially responsible business travel program.”
1. Weighing the Cost of Business Travel
Travel managers appear to prioritize cost savings and compliance ahead of the traveler’s experience. The report notes that if there were a recession, almost half – or 47% – of U.S. travel managers said the company would expect employees to travel “slightly” less often and to spend “slightly” less. Just 39% of business travelers preferred that approach.
2. Employee Wellness Perks Explored
Employees have identified personal challenges when traveling for work, like caring for family and/or pets. The expectation of being reimbursed for such care is considered a legitimate request by some business travelers.
Travel managers surveyed appear more willing to consider stress-relieving perks for employees, such as late-start days and earning personal loyalty points.
However, one of the most challenging tasks for travel managers is ensuring all team members are adequately informed about guidelines and benefits, according to Lisowski. “Employees cannot take advantage of their perks or follow the policies if they don’t know what they are,” she said.
3. Prioritizing Sustainable Travel
Green business travel appears more intentional, with sustainability a concern for 61% of business travelers. Yet, half of U.S travel managers said sustainability is a “small priority, if even a priority at all.”
“A financially responsible business travel program must integrate travel managers into corporate goals, sustainability focused policies and initiatives,” stated Neufang.
“There’s definitely a disconnect between people saying they care about something, saying they care about sustainability, but then actually having targets and ways to action it,” added Lisowski.
“Research suggests that company executives prioritize sustainability. But when you get down to the travel manager, actually making this a number one priority, it’s falling off the list, with their focus on costs and compliance,” she said.
The State of Business Travel research saw data collection through two separate online surveys of U.S. and Canadian travel managers and business travelers between May and June 2023, with 147 travel managers and 411 business travelers completing each survey, respectively.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to show Uber for Business saw a 40% increase in bookings in the first quarter of 2023.
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