Business travel has been a roller coaster over the past two years. And not the fun kind.
When we look back at the post two years, consider the following:
- Less than 2 years ago Bill Gates (along with many others) predicted that corporate travel would be reduced by 50% permanently as a result of the pandemic. I think we will come to find that these predictions lured business owners into a false belief that corporate travel was unnecessary and as a result dragged out the industry’s recovery
- A pent up demand to not only get back on the road but also a realization among stakeholders that business travel does, in fact, carry a return on investment (ROI) of at least many multiples – up to $12.50 to $1 based on an old Oxford Economics study – is driving a desire for a return to normalcy despite all of the industry’s challenges
- Wave after wave of new COVID-19 variants haven’t waned despite the fact that the latest form of the disease is even more transmissible than the first
- Corporate travel has essentially rebounded, at least domestically, to 2019 levels. Some studies estimate that global corporate travel will not only recover fully by 2024 but will increase from a record high of $1.4 trillion to $1.5 trillion annually
- Staffing shortages, airport capacity controls, and weather issues (now runways are buckling under heat – say what?) are causing huge delays and service lapses globally with no end in sight
These and many other externalities have brought significant challenges to the corporate travel industry and the landscape is getting even more difficult to navigate. Pressure brought on by a changing workforce demographic is adding more complexity to these challenges but will serve to finally break the stranglehold of many of our legacy technologies and processes that most believe should have been retired two decades ago.
A New Generation is Demanding Change at the Worst Possible Time
A younger generation of travelers who happen to be more efficient and tech savvy than their predecessors are demanding ease of use, flexibility, and a smarter way to do business. These middle and senior managers in organizations today love to travel for business and recognize the value it brings to their companies and careers.
But to meet the demands of a new generation in the face of so much volatility in the corporate travel industry is not going to be easy or come quickly. TMC’s are struggling to match demand with supply and are trying to hire well qualified people. Training new personnel is another option that all suppliers are considering but corporate travel requires on the job experience and that takes time. All of the major online booking tools (OBT’s) have announced major product re-writes that will incorporate better user interfaces and integrations into third party or supplier direct content. Most of these improvements will take more than a year.
And today, corporate clients have more choices than ever in terms of choosing the best service model for their company’s needs. A growing number of booking choices including new industry entrants is having an impact on consumer choice and putting further strain on a recovering industry. All of this change is occurring now in the midst of the most difficult time in the industry’s history to provide even basic service to travelers.
Bleisure Travel Trend
Bleisure travel is the blending of corporate travel and leisure travel – a trend that is becoming commonplace and is wreaking yet more havoc for an industry in distress. Never the two shall meet, leisure and business travel, has been the industry’s mantra for as long as I can remember. Varying travel requirements, support commitments, tax implications, duty of care issues, and more variability in servicing needs come with the territory. But, Bleisure appears here to stay and we are beginning to see that this “perk” has become an important talent retention/acquisition strategy.
For example, some companies have implemented 60-90 day periods of “work from anywhere in the world” policy. It makes sense. Traveling for business can be highly personal with a lot of downtime that includes separation from loved ones. Bleisure travel helps to fill that void but it comes at a high cost to an industry in recovery. Staff starved industry suppliers now have to figure out how to segment leisure from business travel as it relates to operational support and management reporting. In most cases, processes and technology have to be re-invented to accommodate this shift and it comes at a time where support for legacy tools has become a challenge due to staffing demands and the volatility of transactional volume.
Technology will Catch Up
Imagine the efficiency of a world in which a booking system could alert facilities management that XYZ travelers would be working from ABC location for the next month and adjust their badge to allow them into that office, if they so choose, without the employee needing to take extra steps to secure that badge. A system in which the traveler’s plans can be automatically shared with appropriate Tax, HR, and Risk departments in order to facilitate that work from anywhere option – without any added stress to the employee’s day. Giving employees the opportunity to work from anywhere is one thing; creating a seamless policy, process and system to accomplish that without any added stress could prove to be both a huge value add for organizations and its employees.
As with anything, customer demand will drive solutions but if work efficiencies can be maintained, this model may make a lot of sense and prove to be a better way to do business for many companies.