by Tristan Smith, VP Commercial - SME and SDR
This article first appeared on LinkedIn.
Do you remember the last tradeshow you visited? Not on Zoom or a virtual experience – I'm talking about in person, surrounded by actual people. For me, the Business Travel Show, London, will be the first 'in real life' tradeshow I've attended since the beginning of COVID-19. In fact, it’ll be the first in-person event I’ve attended since the Business Travel Show, London in 2020, which happened right before the first lockdown in the UK.
We’ve all had to adapt to a new way of working, including missing well-loved events. And, looking back at the year the corporate travel industry's had, it's safe to say that it’s been about adapting – especially for travel managers.
Business travel managers have had to both support their travellers and advise their C-suite under challenging circumstances. Egencia surveyed global travel managers to learn more about how their role has changed during the pandemic and what the future holds. The full report is worth reading, but the following points stood out to me.
Business travel - we've missed you.
Nearly one-fifth of travel managers felt it was harder for those roles requiring face-to-face meetings, such as sales and consulting, to establish new relationships and build trust quickly. While eight in ten said that limits on in-person events had impacted the way they work.
It makes sense, and it feels connected to the results we saw in a 2019 report from the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, in association with Egencia. Sixty-two percent of travel managers said that building closer relationships with key customers was one of the biggest external benefits of a strong travel culture.
A return to business travel: What's changed?
Whether to mitigate risk or be more sustainable, many businesses are redefining and formalising what they consider necessary or essential travel.
Thirty-five percent of travel managers agreed that customer service or support was essential travel, including machine or site maintenance and repair. Egencia travel trend data supports this. Our figures show that the manufacturing industry has had the most bookings over the last 60 days, with the booking variation going up by 28 percent.
A similar number of respondents at 30 percent also agreed that an in-person meeting to close a big deal was also critical and purposeful. So, some business travel may be necessary for your competitive strategy, but is it permissible in terms of safety and wellbeing?
What about permissible travel? Does your business have a clear definition of precisely what will be considered acceptable business travel? The experts at FESTIVE ROAD1 have done great work breaking this down, creating a Permissible Travel Framework that suggests that the formula for permissible travel should be: Company confidence x travel confidence x government permission = permissible travel.
What's stayed the same in corporate travel?
Business travel has changed, but many priorities have stayed the same. Nearly a fifth of respondents said that analysing data for new ways to save money was the most important area of focus. That's a big check in the box for cost savings, then.
What about competitiveness? This goes unchanged too. Whatever your view on working remotely vs the office, there are many times where you just can't match the power of in person. In May 2021, Jamie Dimon, the chief exec of JP Morgan Chase2, said they lost business because "bankers from the other guys visited, and ours didn't."
Safety continues to be a priority too, and travel managers need the right travel technology to ensure they can update policies on the fly, communicate with travellers quickly and effectively, and keep abreast of where their travellers are scheduled to be. "My job is to take care of our travellers. I need efficient tools to help me support our employees in the event of a travel emergency," Niklas Nordström, the strategic purchaser at Attendo, explained.
The pull of the road
As a commercial leader who’s used to being on the road in meeting with clients, prospects and my global team, I feel excited to be taking my first steps back on the road. In September, I'm attending the Business Travel Show in London, and I'm already excited to be in the same room as old friends, colleagues, and industry-leading peers. And I'm especially looking forward to speaking to travel managers face to face about some of the challenges they've met over the last year and some of the surprising positives they may have come across.
Download the evolving role of the travel manager, a complete guide, to learn more about what's changed for corporate travel managers and what the future holds.
1. FESTIVE ROAD. 2021. Permissible Travel Framework. https://www.festive-road.com/the-permissible-travel-framework/
2. Son, H., and Giel, D. 2021. Jamie Dimon, fed up with Zoom calls and remote work, says commuting to offices will make a comeback. CNBC.com. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/04/jamie-dimon-fed-up-with-zoom-calls-and-remote-work-says-commuting-to-offices-will-make-a-comeback.html