The Big Story — Traveler's Quest: The Travel Puzzle
Travel programs are piecing together a picture of what high-value road warriors want and need
By Mark Rowh
Everyone knows that business travel poses challenges. After all, the very term "road warrior" connotes someone putting forth great effort, a status very different from the leisure traveler. By definition business travelers are goal oriented, venturing forth to support the interests of their careers and their employer. But what about their own needs? As they go about their business, what do road warriors really want?
"Business travelers desire purpose coupled with experiences," says Gabe Rizzi, president of Travel Leaders Corporate and a veteran road warrior himself. "Like anyone, we want our work to mean something, and for the time away from our homes, families and friends to be worth it."
This means having a convenient and satisfying experience whether that’s booking the trip, traveling to the destination, getting a good night’s sleep or accomplishing the actual tasks at hand. It also involves integrating personal down time with ease.
"As an industry we’ve been talking ad nauseam on this topic and very few companies have provided a convenient solution," Rizzi says.
Simon Ferguson, president and managing director, Travelport Americas, says road warriors want convenience, a consumer-grade experience and the ability to self-serve. “Technology has shifted the power from the business to the consumer,” he says. “Customer experience is the new loyalty barometer for travel, and travelers are getting more demanding with the availability of multiple touchpoints and options.”
Correspondingly, with fast-changing customer preferences and technology disruptions, the industry is transforming and businesses are recognizing the need to provide travelers with a seamless, quick and personalized travel experience.
A desire for a certain measure of freedom is paramount, according to Jeffrey Berk, CEO of enterprise technology company Tripkicks. Travelers, particularly road warriors, want to be empowered and trusted to make their own decisions, he maintains.
Ferguson notes that for the last decade or so, mobile has been enhancing the travel experience and removing friction points at every step – so much so that 98 percent of travelers now carry these nearly-ubiquitous devices with them throughout their journey.
“Now, customer expectations are evolving at such lightning speed that travelers expect information to be available on-demand and to have their needs met at the swipe of a screen,” he says. “This puts pressure on travel brands to engage with customers through the channels of their choosing.”
In the competition to attract and retain talent, practices that show concern for travelers can be an important factor, according to Barb Barnard, who is senior vice president, Americas at CWT. "Travelers can feel unsupported by their company when they travel," Barnard explains. "They're looking for corporations to know what life on the road is like and how that impacts wellbeing and business effectiveness."
Responsive & Responsible What strategies hold potential for improving the travel experience? “Productivity and comfort are probably the top happiness drivers that road warriors consider most important,” says Jeff Feuerstein, SVP of commercial products for Mastercard. He suggests considering offering additional program benefits to the heaviest travelers. This might be categorized by job family such as sales, or by frequency of travel.
Recent Mastercard research has shown that the benefits travelers would find most appealing include airport lounge memberships, reimbursement for TSA Pre-Check, Clear and Global Entry application costs, inflight WiFi subscriptions, concierge and travel rewards.
Feuerstein adds that allowing use of ride share suppliers such as Uber and Lyft is now common practice in many travel policies, and that accommodation platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway are also gaining traction. This type of flexibility may also help road warriors feel more at home while on the road.
Penny Watermeier, vice president of sales and marketing for Travel and Transport, emphasizes the importance of understanding the definition of success from different stakeholders’ perspectives while realizing that they may have conflicting definitions.
“Finance wants to ensure you are doing all possible to control expenses, and travelers want to make sure someone is looking out for them, making their lives as easy as possible when they’re on the road,” Watermeier says. To serve up a program that delivers safety, convenience and service elegance, travel managers will need to listen carefully as travelers voice their needs.
While one approach to travel management is to focus on policy enforcement and rigid program structures, a more progressive approach is to strike a balance between controlling costs and meeting the demands of employees for more traveler-centric benefits, according to Feuerstein.
Barnard suggests addressing the needs of road warriors through a different policy that takes into consideration the impact to traveler well-being, productivity and how that affects overall business output. This means looking at opportunities to balance cost with traveler experience.
Despite recent progress, significant gaps can still be seen between current practice and what could be the norm. “The reality is business travel is about change and disruption, and many of these variables are out of the traveler’s control,” Watermeier says. “Our role is to ensure we make travel as productive as possible and offer travelers solutions and options in a consultative manner.”
At the same time, as Ashley Allott, senior sales director for Egencia, points out, “There will always be opportunities to improve the business travel experience, especially with machine learning and AI on the horizon.” She predicts machine learning algorithms will enhance a travel manager’s ability to identify traveler behavior, set daily hotel rate caps based on market and seasonality, and determine the most logical low-fare options.
“Having access to this type of data may lead to companies eliminating pre-approval requirements, which can ultimately save time and money,” she says.
Tuning In To Specifics In the quest to make the travel experience as positive as possible, the value of obtaining input from the road warriors themselves seems a no-brainer. “It’s a great idea for travel managers to keep the feedback loop open with their employees to measure the success of a program,” Feuerstein says.
He notes putting metrics in place to measure program performance in terms of financial impact, business process success and employee satisfaction is a growing trend across businesses of all sizes, particularly those who aim to create a travel program that is considered an employee perk.
However in the process, it’s imperative to steer clear of the one-size-fits-all mentality. “The needs and wants of every organization’s travelers are going to be unique to where they travel, and what they do while away from the office,” he says. “And even then, what works for sales people may not be the same as what teams need and want.”
On the other hand, while Allott agrees regular surveys and check-ins with travelers are insightful, other approaches can also pay off. She advises it’s just as important to examine the behaviors that can be seen in travel data.
“If travelers are consistently booking out of policy, examine your policy and find out why,” she says. “Assume the positive intent of your travelers and let the actual booking data be your guide.”
Such analysis may reveal that a policy is outdated or unearth opportunities to save money and increase traveler satisfaction. Paying heed to these insights could generate savings in the long run while at the same time delivering exactly what the traveler wants.