Today’s corporate travel environment is characterized by greater connectivity, the availability of on-demand services, more personalization and always-on support, leading the business traveler to expect a simpler and more flexible experience on the road. In response, travel managers are taking a more traveler-considerate approach to developing travel policies and programs that meet expectations.

Those are the results of a new study, Managing the Modern
Business Traveler, from the Association of Corporate Travel Executives and underwritten by American Express Global Business Travel. The poll of 174 corporate travel managers worldwide is the latest in ACTE’s Modern Business Traveler research series investigating the needs and behaviors of today’s business travelers. The current study reveals the ways travel managers are encouraging compliance, adapting policy and using data to meet the
expectations of their travelers.

The research found that, in the age of widespread availability of travel options, the art of influencing traveler behavior is becoming more nuanced. While the vast majority of travel managers (93 percent) of travel managers still rely on education to guide traveler decision making, and just over three-quarters (77 percent) mandate compliance, a growing number (87 percent) say they use or are considering using ‘visual guilt’ to prompt users to reconsider travel purchases if a more cost-effective option is available, while almost as many (85 percent) point to peer pressure and corporate culture.
Other types of approaches include rewards and incentives, both
non-monetary (20 percent) and monetary (17 percent).

“Business travelers have come to expect a personalized experience when they’re on the road, but many organizations continue to take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to travel policy, driving travelers to work outside the normal channels,” says Greeley Koch, executive director, ACTE. “While travel policies absolutely need to change to take individual needs into account, travel managers can – and should – tap into travelers’ point of view to encourage them to do the right thing. After all, managers are on the hook for not only the safety of their travelers, but also the cost of doing business.”

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Focus on Quality of Life
More travelers are raising quality of life concerns with travel managers, continuing an upward trend observed in earlier editions of the study. Nearly a third (31 percent) of travel managers responding are seeing more enquiries about work-life balance, while 30 percent say more travelers have asked about adding a leisure element to business trips.

The study found that growing expectations around work-life balance are reflected in greater use of non-traditional – and potentially out-of-policy – travel and accommodation methods, although the growth in these sectors has slowed from 2016 findings. This year, half (50 percent) of managers saw usage of non-traditional ground transport grow, versus 79 percent in the previous survey. The same holds true for accommodation options like Airbnb, with 20 percent of managers seeing traveler usage increase in 2017, versus 40 percent the previous year.

Broader Policies, 
Advanced Apps  Corporate travel policies are expanding and tools are getting more sophisticated, as travel managers respond to the changing expectation of the modern business traveler. The research found more travel policies are incorporating non-traditional accommodations. In the most recent study, 22 percent of managers included so-called sharing economy lodging options in policy, compared with just 9 percent the year prior. Corporate travelers are also finding the use of apps on the rise, with 93 percent of managers providing or planning to provide trip information apps, 89 percent providing apps for booking and 81 percent offering T&E apps.

Inside the Traveler’s Mind
With business travelers’ expectations continuing to evolve, the study advises travel managers to look for ways to get into travelers’ minds to understand both their stated and unstated needs. One key is leveraging the data generated by travel, both internally and from outside sources. TMC travel and spend data is a primary resource for 90 percent of the managers surveyed, three-quarters (76 percent) use card payments providers, while two-thirds (66 percent) rely on internal systems and an equal number on TMC analysis, and 60 percent assess internal policy compliance data.

“Data can make a world of difference for the travel manager seeking to wrap their brain around a growing constellation of traveler needs and expectations,” Koch says. “But it’s not enough to gather the data; managers must actually analyze it and translate it into action. A successful, data-driven travel program can achieve any corporate travel executive’s core objectives: positioning their travelers for success, while also demonstrating the travel manager’s value as a business leader.” “It’s also key to remember that a successful travel program is an effective tool for attracting and retaining talent – a major plus for today’s competitive business landscape,” adds Philip Haxne, regional director EMEA, Global Business Consulting for American Express Global Business Travel. “Strong programs that contribute to employee happiness and productivity underscore the travel manager’s valuable role to the business as a whole.”

Managing the Modern Business Traveler, sponsored by American Express Global Business Travel, is the latest in the Modern Business Traveler, an ongoing series of research projects from the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, exploring the attributes of today’s corporate traveler and how travel managers can respond proactively to the challenges and expectations in this changing environment.