What travel managers and their veteran travelers expect from today’s travel programs
On Sept. 25, Business Travel Executive hosted the latest in its Going Deeper webinar series, Traveler Experience Counts: Focus your program on the productivity and success of your high-value travelers. This follow-up article provides a more in-depth look at the topics covered in that webinar. To hear the webinar in its entirety, visit businesstravelexecutive.com
A corporate travel program that revolves around the organization’s business travelers empowers these employees to be more effective on the road and boosts the return on the company’s travel investment. That’s why for both travelers and travel buyers, it’s impossible to underestimate the power of building relationships – and more important, building them in person.
Business leaders are realizing the need to prioritize their traveling employees’ safety, health and productivity, says Raphael Pasdeloup, SVP and global head of CWT Energy, Resources and Marine.
“There’s an increased appreciation around the stress that come with travel and the need to create an overall environment where employees feel their well-being is being valued and supported. That, in turn, helps with employee productivity and engagement,” he says. “Organizations today understand that they have a larger and more active role to play – and a much bigger stake in their reputations as a place people want to go to work – by committing to these values and building an organizational culture around them.”
Gabe Rizzi, president of Travel Leaders Corporate, says face-to-face interaction gives a company an edge over its competition. “When companies cut T&E to make budget, they are mortgaging the future for the present,” he warns.
“New business is a by-product of in-person meetings,” Rizzi says. “If a company wants engaged, enthusiastic business travelers, it needs to take the philosophy that travel isn’t just a line item in the budget. It’s a business growth tool. When companies have that viewpoint, their travel programs thrive and the new business pipeline swells.”
Traveler wellbeing has always been key to travel programs, notes DeAnne Dale, senior vice president global strategy and consulting for Reed & Mackay. But in recent years there’s been a growing recognition that satisfied employees perform better. This has reframed the way corporates think about employee welfare, and therefore influenced their travel policy.
“Businesses are taking a more holistic approach to the well-being of their employees. This could mean allowing cabin upgrades on longer flights, or ensuring they have time to recuperate between trips,” she says. “Along with a focus on wellness in our personal and professional lives comes a changing expectation of work-life balance. Travelers want to minimize time away from home—this means getting the best job done in the shortest time.”
Travel buyers and their travel management companies can help with this by ensuring travelers don’t waste time waiting at the airport and removing friction points to maximize productivity on the move. Lesley O’Bryan, SVP of business travel consultancy Advito, says most companies set the initial guidance and then empower the traveler to choose based upon the parameters they put forth.
“They try to balance traveler safety, productivity and engagement, and keep duty-of-care top of mind,” O’Bryan says. “Some engage through technology and tools, some engage directly through direct messaging, some have a mandate on what they have to do.”Discovering Needs
The easiest way to learn what experienced travelers expect from a travel program and what they really want is simply to ask.
“Conduct a traveler engagement survey asking them to rate the program and their travel experiences for work on a scale of 1 to 10,” Rizzi advises. “Then ask what would have to change to make it a 10? Experienced travelers are a gold mine of information.”
Once the information is collected, then it’s a matter of tying it to the overall business goals of the company. For instance, if money is the only metric, buying business class tickets might seem like an unnecessary expense. But if that expense allows experienced travelers to arrive refreshed and ready to work, it can be viewed more as an investment in success because it ties into the company’s profitability.
At CWT, Pasdeloup says clients work with the company to solicit feedback from a variety of sources, including traveler satisfaction surveys, post-bookings questionnaires and more.
“Clients can arrange town hall calls, drop-in sessions, etc.,” he says. “One initiative from our consulting arm, CWT Solutions Group, has been to develop the Traveler Happiness Index, measuring the impact of a trip against a number of new KPIs such as productivity, work-life balance, comfort, sustainability, among others. It helps our clients better understand not just what their travelers’ pain points are, but how these are evolving over time. From there, our findings enable us to be much more nimble in how we respond.”
Most recently, the company did a survey with C-suite executives in the oil and gas industry, specifically asking them whether they have traveler health and safety programs in place.
“We know what travelers want from our previous research, so we wanted to find out what companies are doing to address them,” Pasdeloup explains. “Our findings show that, despite the fact that the oil and gas industry is the most advanced when it comes to traveler safety, only half have of those we surveyed had programs in place, and only a third are investigating traveler health and safety solutions. Here we see a gap, and an opportunity for us to build services into the programs that we offer our clients and their traveling employees.”
Before embarking on any changes to a program, Dale says it’s key to understand the culture and objectives of an organization. “Travel managers who listen to travelers’ needs will find they achieve the best buy-in for their travel policy,” she says. “This might be organizing a working group to discuss what they expect or running a traveler survey to gather feedback to improve your program. A feedback program will enable buyers to continually improve their inclusion, policy engagement and adoption.”
O’Bryan says the “noise” heard from travelers usually comes from less frequent travelers and the real road warriors don’t usually say anything unless there is some kind of disruption to the system. “Their expectation is an immediate response because they need less help, so when they reach out, they want it right away,” she says. “The hard part is trying to differentiate who those road warriors are.”
Manuel Brachet, VP customer success at Egencia, says whether it’s the traveler, arranger or travel manager, his company takes feedback from everyone who uses its platform and contacts its customer service team.
“Being the only major TMC to own its technology, we are advantageously positioned to dig deep into comments from individuals, visualize all the feedback, track our customers’ sentiment, and view the data by type of user (traveler, arranger, travel manager) across every aspect of the booking experience to make informed decisions about what we build, test and release,” he says.Real-Time Influence
Technology-enabled choices across a variety of booking channels help to influence travelers’ decisions in real time, by giving them the information they need when they need it, helping alleviate travel-related stress. “Anyone who is traveling for work wants to make decisions on the fly, and that means mobile first,” Rizzi says. “Technology at one’s fingertips allows corporate travelers to make better decisions on rebooking, ground transport, and risk management.”
Travelers want a first-class mobile experience not only to book travel, but while they’re on the move. That’s why it’s essential for TMCs to provide a mobile app that allows them to make a booking, navigate their trip and stay connected.
“Our app provides travel alerts via push notifications and has a ‘send location’ feature, so they are supported at every step of their journey,” says Reed & Mackay’s Dale. “The app will help travelers make the best decisions if their journey is disrupted by delays or cancellations.”
Pasdeloup says at CWT, technology is a key enabler of travelers’ decisions at every touchpoint, from notifying travelers of delays, rebooking options, or simply provide gate and terminal information as they occur.
“Proactive and timely messaging through CWT Program Messenger effectively allows clients to talk with their employees in real time, either pre-trip and/or while they’re on a trip,” he says. “We have started to roll-out our messaging service that combines human and AI capabilities to provide even speedier chat response times, and we are integrating our platform seamlessly across mobile, desktop, and other channels, specifically messaging and chat.”
Nonetheless, behind any technology, there needs to be the human element, Rizzi notes. An experienced corporate travel advisor can be the secret weapon behind the tech, he says.Motivating Travelers
Many travel programs offer an array of features, but not every traveler takes advantage of it all.
Rizzi notes “bleisure” is a hot trend right now, and more and more companies are recognizing that employees work travel more fulfilling when they can enjoy their destination. “They are relying on their travel management companies to offer them those options. If a company can make it easy for their employees by allowing them to use the services of their travel advisors to tack some vacation time on,” he says, “they are apt to find themselves with happy workers who do great work at their destination.”
For example, Travel Leaders Corporate has a program for its clients called Concierge where if a client opts in, Concierge automatically sends a curated list of offerings based on a traveler’s specific itinerary.
“Travelers have an array of options and can determine when they wish to schedule something, be it after work hours, on a layover, or as part of a pre-or post-work trip,” Rizzi says. “It is easy to use and provides user-generated reviews for all activities, making it easy for travelers to see what experiences best suit them.”
O’Bryan says the more you can set expectations, the higher the satisfaction will be with the program. “What the most successful companies do to engage travelers is through different type of marketing components – driving education and awareness before they even take a trip,” she says.
Of course, communication is key to ensure travelers are aware of all the benefits included in your travel program. “Often, bookings are made outside of policy because the traveler is not aware of the best negotiated rates available or additional perks included, such as free breakfast, WiFi or gym access,” Dale says. “Technology can support you in this, so encourage users to book through an online booking tool.”
Egencia supports its customers to create a travel program that their employees love and are a natural extension of their company culture. “Involving employees in the development of the travel program is critical to adopting travel processes, policies and systems that they will love,” Brachet says. “Ultimately the best travel programs are ones that employees don’t even have to think about.”