Mike Orchard, Principal Consultant, FESTIVE ROAD
With the pandemic grounding up to 90 percent of travel, views across the boardroom table often vary when it comes to the future of travel.
Does this scene look familiar?
Business travel is at a unique crossroads. Now is the time to determine the ROI and value of business travel to your organisation, and to decide which types of trips your business can and can’t afford to do without.
As you build back your travel activity, finding the right balance between people, profit and planet is crucial.
It’s time to take a purposeful approach to business travel.
Trends reshaping the need for business travel
Three key trends are driving the debate amongst leaders who are contemplating how to rebuild business travel:
- The work environment is changing. Organisations are taking a diverse view on when, how and if teams will return to the office. Seventy-two percent of CFOs expect their office space to shrink over the next two years[i]. Video-conferencing technology has improved and provides a viable alternative to travel in some cases.
- Employees’ willingness to travel has shifted. A poll of regular business travellers suggests that only one third expect their amount of travel to return to the same level as before the pandemic[ii]. For others, the lack of travel has created challenges. For example, 63 percent of business travellers say they will look to change jobs if travel is limited in the future[iii].
- Sustainable travel in the spotlight. Thirty percent of CEOs report that the issue of climate change is now an ‘extreme concern’[iv], an increase from 24 percent in a year. Business travel can be a major contributor of Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions. Over 70 percent of corporate travel managers say that they are concerned with their company’s carbon footprint from travel[v]. For example, EY has announced plans to reduce carbon emissions from business travel by 35 percent by 2025[vi].
Business travel: A change in thinking
Before real change can take place, it’s crucial to assess how ready (and open) your organisation is to it.
If your organisation is on its way towards the new way of thinking, then it’s a great time to start a review to determine the purpose and value of business travel for your company.
The value of defining your business travel purpose
Embracing a purposeful approach to travel helps your organisation determine the intent behind it in the context of your business objectives, resulting in tangible revenue, human and company value.
This new way of thinking allows your organisation to approach travel as an investment, not simply as a cost.
The Purposeful Travel Model can deliver:
- Operational efficiencies and cost savings. By defining where face-to-face brings true value, you automatically identify the value of each type of travel and the ROI it delivers. This allows your organisation to make efficient decisions on the value of each proposed business trip. It may also lead you to replace some types of travel with alternative communication methods to save cost, drive employee productivity and maximise investment in technology, while still maintaining a competitive advantage. However, don’t think it’s as simple as cutting internal travel. Some internal travel brings incredible value, while some client-facing meetings can be delivered as or more efficiently using technology. Defining your true business need will help you see that.
- Revenue growth. Purposeful travel also means prioritising trips based on the value of face-to-face client communication and your clients’ requirements. For example, travel that enables mergers and acquisitions, customer retention and new business are trips your organisation may want to invest more in. Conversely, your clients may prefer to limit in-person meetings as part of their commitment to sustainability. Defaulting to a ‘virtual-only’ approach to meetings may not drive as much revenue growth when compared to in-person meetings — a balanced approach is needed.
- Risk mitigation and compliance. The model helps your organisation determine the types of business travel that take place, allowing risk management steps to be established and included in the planning, approval and travel booking processes. This means you establish the right protocols and processes to ensure that each trip is compliant and risk is managed in an increasingly uncertain world. Agreeing that a trip is being taken for the right purpose is the first step towards an effective risk management programme.
- An authentic approach to sustainability. Importantly, purposeful travel can help you take steps to prioritise the right travel and minimise your carbon footprint. The model can help focus on sustainability in the travel decision-making process and trigger changes in the level of travel demand. For those trips that are encouraged, a stronger emphasis can be placed on sustainability. For example, using rail versus air travel, or prioritising flights with more efficient aircraft can significantly reduce carbon impact. Additionally, the trip can be used for more purposes than originally envisaged, like attending a conference but then staying on for client meetings.
- Employee/traveller well-being. Employees’ appetite for business travel has become very personal. So have their trust and comfort levels. Time on the road is time away from family and friends, and there is increasing recognition that frequent business travel can add stress and impact employees’ well-being. On the other hand, some travellers have seriously missed this aspect of their role. By establishing a clear purpose around travel and determining the ‘why’, employees understand that they’re only being asked to take critical and valuable business trips. And that they’ll have pre, during and post-trip support to make their trip successful and productive for them, as well as the organisation.
Recognising the value of business travel
A study conducted just before the Covid-19 pandemic by the Harvard Business Review[vii] offers insights on the benefits created by business travel. The study found that companies who invest in business travel as a strategic enabler (versus a cost item to be minimised) experience:
- Internal benefits such as:
- 2.2 x faster speed to market
- 2.3 x higher employee satisfaction
- 2.0 x better operational efficiency
- 1.6 x higher profitability
- External benefits such as:
- 2.4 x stronger customer loyalty and retention
- 2.0 x higher market share
With the shifts created by the pandemic, workplace changes, willingness to travel and focus on sustainability, it’s likely that the volume and type of business travel experiences that take place in the future will be very different. Taking a considered approach with the Purposeful Travel Model will help your organisation to continue to derive the benefits that business travel provides from the trips that add the highest ROI and positive impact.
For more information, download the ‘Adding purpose to your travel programme’ white paper.
Independent insights and images courtesy of FESTIVE ROAD
Mike Orchard is a principal consultant at FESTIVE ROAD. With over 20 years of experience in the corporate travel industry, he works with travel buyers and suppliers to create positive, lasting and impactful change in their travel programmes and services.
[i] Don’t overlook critical talent intelligence in your postpandemic location strategy, Gartner, April 2021
[ii] Business travellers planning to cut future flights, poll finds, The Guardian, April 2021
[iv] 24th Annual Global CEO Survey, PwC, March 2021
[v] Sustaining the future, reducing the environmental impact of business travel, BTN Europe, June 2021
[vi] EY to cut business travel emissions by 35 per cent by 2025, BTN Europe, January 2021
[vii] Travel culture: your innovation and growth advantage, Harvard Business Review, 2019