NAVIGATING NEW AGE BUSINESS TRAVEL

With the rise of the digital age, corporate travel policies must rapidly assimilate new technologies and consumption habits to attract and retain the best talent.

Asia-Pacific (APAC) is the largest region in the world for business travel, accounting for 40% of the global total. It is expected to become the fastest-growing region in the world by the end of 2017, and is home to three of the top 10 business travel spending markets – China, India and South Korea.

Positive regional economic growth is leading both global and local businesses to develop in new markets, resulting in more business travel into, out of and within APAC. According to travel data from Concur, Australia, China and Singapore have emerged as the top three business destinations in APAC – Singapore is either the start or destination for four out of five of the most travelled routes.

Technology is also significantly impacting the dimensions of business travel, particularly in APAC which is home to many ‘mobile-first’ markets. The expectations of business travellers are rapidly evolving, requiring greater autonomy, flexibility and personalisation as the lines between work and life become increasingly blurred. This is further confounded by the increasingly younger demographics entering the workforce.

An APP-etite For Technology

APAC is ranked first in the world for the growth of smartphone traffic to the Internet. The region also claimed the top spot for app revenue in 2016, which is expected to double by 2020.

With this in mind, both employers and travel suppliers must engage in digital and mobile-first strategies to reach modern and younger business travellers who are increasingly dependent on their mobile devices for work and travel. Booking tools and applications should be fast, intuitive and accessible via mobile devices, and offer a variety of options for transport and accommodation. If these tools are used effectively, data can be easily captured, allowing for smooth processing of expenses and easily locating employees who are traveling in the event of an incident.

Autonomy Vs Economy

Business travellers prefer autonomy over how they travel, leading to a preference for employee direct bookings that offer customized convenience, choice and cost-savings. Loyalty programmes, such as frequent flyer and hotel points programmes, also have an impact on choices. Employees’ highly consumerized behaviour mean they book with their preferred suppliers directly, often resulting in non-compliance with their employer’s travel policy.

This also leads to confusion about what is and isn’t covered by the employer, causing potential disputes later and lost productivity sorting out expenses. Without an up-to-date travel policy, businesses miss out on the negotiated rates derived from managed travel programmes, and not delivering savings to the bottom line.

Rise Of The New Business Traveller

By 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce and APAC will be home to 60% of them by 2020. These connected ‘Digital Natives’ thrive on a sense of purpose in their work and crave autonomy, flexibility and empowerment. As their numbers grow, the culture they create will permeate every business.

This desire for ‘experience over expenditure’ is leading to the rise of ‘bleisure’ (a combination of business and leisure). Bleisure is most associated with younger business travellers who want work-life balance, and to easily blend business travel with leisure by extending trips and bringing along family and friends. Research shows that Asian business travellers are almost twice as likely to make a booking that includes a weekend (12%) compared with their European peers (7%).

Younger business travellers increasingly taking plans into their own hands prevents employers from properly fulfilling their duty of care. If there is no record of a hotel or flight change, or an Airbnb stay over a weekend, and an incident takes place (natural disaster, act of terrorism, etc.), the employer is unable to quickly confirm the safety of the employee.

Modernizing Business Travel Policies

In order to cater to the growing millennial demographic, companies could benefit from improving the speed and ease with which their employees book their business travel. This involves taking their preferences into account, including where they go to book itineraries, preferred search tools and payment methods, airline and hotel concierge programmes; or location-tracking, itinerary planning and transportation mobile apps they often follow or use. If these tools and platforms provide greater savings and added convenience, directly striking a deal with the supplier would translate into greater savings in the long term.

Clearly establishing rules and guidelines is also a necessary practice. This ranges from parameters on which travel suppliers to use to defining the employee claim experience. For the latter, import areas to think about include fixed exchange rates for when an employee’s receipts are in foreign currency, or if they are easily able to highlight personal expenses vs business. If such issues remain unclear, businesses could seek technological solutions for simplifying expense reporting right from the point of booking to the end of the travel journey.

Lastly, employees sometimes travel to places vulnerable to terrorist attacks and natural disasters, making it critical to have a simple structure for sharing information about employees’ whereabouts without impinging on their privacy. This could be solved by including an integrated travel itinerary planning system into travel policy, which allows employers to fulfil their duty of care towards their employees. After all, a safe employee is a happy employee.

About the Writer

Nick Evered is the Senior Vice President and General Manager for Concur across Asia Pacific. He leads the sales and operations team in delivering innovative software technology solutions to meet customer needs. Concur, a SAP company, is the global leader in travel and expense management. By connecting data, applications and people, Concur delivers an effortless experience for organizations providing total transparency into discretionary spend.

This article was first published on the MillionaireAsia Issue 46 - November 2017


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