4 ways business travel programs can change with the times

4 ways business travel programs can change with the timesOriginally posted on August 22, 2016

Business travel today is not one-size fits all. Traveler preferences vary by age, gender, company size, and region, and business travel programs must adapt to accommodate them, according to travel experts and the GBTA Business Traveler Sentiment Index™ Global Report - June 2016, in partnership with American Express.

Millennials are more inclined than other age groups to use social media to look up restaurants or connect with friends in places they’re visiting for work, whereas some Boomers never use social sites on work trips, according to the report. Fifty-one percent of business travelers like to kick back on flights, however, the remainder enjoys working during their time in flight for business travel.

The wide range of travel preferences stood out in the research, which surveyed 3,500 part-time or full-time employees in the United States and seven other countries about their business travel habits and plans.

As travel program managers consider revamping offerings or policies to keep up with the times, it’s helpful to note that the best changes “are things everyone could benefit from,” said Jeanne Liu Vice President of Research for the GBTA Foundation.

Here are some options for keeping pace with business travelers’ expectations:

Foot the bill for Wi-Fi, other conveniences

For the second year in a row, business travelers were less satisfied with airport security than any other aspect of work trips, according to the research. Travel program managers have no control over the long airport security lines that are the norm in some parts of the world or over spotty Wi-Fi service that also registered high on travelers’ list of trip-related frustrations. But they can help take the sting out of such inconveniences by paying for conveniences that could make business travelers more productive and happier. That includes picking up the cost for Wi-Fi on planes, premium high-speed Wi-Fi service in hotels, or Wi-Fi hot spots that work anywhere, according to Liu.

It could also include TSA Pre-Check for employees who fly inside the country regularly and Global Entry for employees who make frequent international trips, she said.

Address new travel options in policies and guidelines

Consumer interest in ride- and home-sharing services such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and HomeAway is spilling into business travel. Even so, more than one in five business travelers aren’t sure if these types of services are covered by their companies’ travel policies, according to the research. If travel policies allow for sharing-economy services, program managers need to communicate as much to travelers. Sending an email isn’t enough, because employees might not pay attention until they’re leaving on a trip, Liu said. Instead, have documents available in forms and places travelers can reference when they need them.

Many organizations are still deciding how to proceed and could end up coming to different conclusions about what to cover. A lot depends on what’s available in places employees travel for work and how safe existing options are, Liu said. GBTA members are reaching out to see what other companies are doing. Some are trying pilot programs to see what works. “If you don’t have an official policy, you’ll have people doing everything, and that’s no better,” she said. “It’s something you should address earlier rather than later.”

Provide digital options and training on how to use them

Business travelers appreciate the convenience of submitting expense receipts electronically and using a mobile wallet linked to their corporate card. A majority use smartphones or tablets to track itineraries and file expenses, according to the research. Millennials lead other ages in many aspects of using mobile and social on the road, but they aren’t the only ones interested in those options. Organizations can support business travelers of all ages by making mobile devices and social media tools available and by training travelers to use them.

Mobile and digital travel tools have the best chance of taking hold when companies create a culture that supports them, starting with upper management, said Therese Banks, vice president of large market client groups for American Express Global Commercial Payments. “Take a video of a senior endorser encouraging groups to take training,” she said. “Get sponsorship, and have the top down be supportive.”

Help travelers feel safe

Most business travelers feel safe on the road and that their companies care about their well-being when they’re away, according to the research. Staying connected with employees when they travel can reinforce that, especially in a time when disasters or events in some parts of the world can make business travelers uneasy, Liu said.

Staying in touch could be as simple as making a phone call to an employee who’s lost their luggage or a traveler stuck in a hotel because of a storm to make sure they’re taken care of. Just knowing someone knows where they are and is there if they need help can make travelers feel more secure, Liu said. As part of that support, brief employees before they go on trips so they understand what to do in case of unexpected circumstances and provide travel insurance and assistance services.

For more information and ideas, read the entire report here.

The GBTA Business Traveler Sentiment Index™ Global Report – June 2016, in partnership with American Express, was fielded between March 31 and April 13, 2016. The GBTA Foundation conducted an online survey of 3,500 business travelers whose primary residences are located in Australia, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States, who are employed part- or full-time, and who have taken at least four business trips in the prior 12 months. Because this research was conducted with an online, nonprobability sample, the margin of error cannot be calculated.

The content in this published material are provided for general informational purposes only and do not constitute investment, financial, tax, legal or other professional advice on any subject matter. Please contact your investment, financial, tax, legal or other professional advisor regarding your specific needs and situation. American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc. and its subsidiaries and affiliates (“American Express”) do not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information contained in these materials. American Express does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy of these published materials.