Evolution of Business Travel Experience in a Post-COVID-19 World

By Carl Jones, Vice President, Head of Travel, Asia Pacific & Greater China at SAP Concur

I was delighted to be invited to speak at the recent ITB India 2021, where I had the most exciting discussion about the future of corporate travel programs with Mr. Suraj Nair – Founder of Travel Spends. It is an India-based travel consultancy that deploys analytics and technology to help organizations save money and processes. I was eager to know the kind of trends they had witnessed over the last few months in the corporate travel market. I realized that companies’ focus was earlier on ‘costs’; they are relooking their travel policy in its entirety in the post-COVID-19 scenario.  It is time for a paradigm shift in business travel — employee safety has become paramount for companies.

Delving deeper into the safety and security part, I learnt that it must be given to employees upfront, especially when they plan to travel. The funding, however, involves examining the entire cost structure management within T&E programs. As the rates are volatile, the demand is rising, opening avenues for re-shopping and real-time analytics. It will deliver savings to the companies, which they can invest into employee duty of care, safety, and security.

The discussion also addressed questions such as how companies can improve their duty of care and what mechanisms or technologies can be adopted. Technology has played a pivotal part in shaping up duty of care technologies. In fact, apps provide a better solution while complementing the kind of employee travel patterns or itineraries. This is evident from the clear cut information they provide on the risk advisory part, which enables people travelling to any country to avoid areas plagued by pandemics, political threats or even terror threats. Data revolving around business travel has also evolved from a simple itinerary management app to a proactive data platform with an enhanced focus on incorporating COVID-19 data. Nowadays, one can find relevant data like the COVID-19 infection rate for a destination.

Every challenge brings an opportunity to adapt, adopt and move ahead. A decade ago, India had a manual centric market that gradually shifted focus to hybrid technologies involving self-booking and enablement of platforms. Present times call for innovation and collaboration that enable data flow and ancillaries to come together facilitated by the Internet of Things. Consequently, technology can also guarantee best practices that foster employee safety and total compliance. For instance, a Fortune 500 social media company was able to save 12-14% primarily by driving back information to travellers. This is a solid example of how information is an important metric to achieve better financial prudence. Moreover, these savings can then be diverted into constructive initiatives like care programs.

It was equally heartening to know that the definition of essential travel now includes employee safety and not just business needs. Although employees are upfront about bringing radical changes in the business travel experience, buildup and the creation of demand in travel will take some time. With the present global vaccination drive in full swing, business travel will soon get back on its feet. Corporates need to facilitate audit trail, mechanisms, health policies and subsequent reimbursement that improve employee experience and safety.

In a nutshell, organizations need to broaden their perspectives allowing futuristic solutions to cover the cost of complete risk for business travel. It was indeed an exciting discussion that provided more profound insights into corporate travel programs’ ever-changing dynamics.

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