Employee-centric travel policies that emphasize convenience over cost-savings and the ongoing popularity of ‘bleisure’ travel are among the trends defining corporate travel in 2019, according to CWT’s Sherry Saunders, the host agency’s country director, Canada & VP North America customer organization.
Saunders spoke to PAX during this week’s Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA) Toronto conference, which brought together business travel and meeting management professionals for four days of networking and learning on the latest trends in the corporate travel sector.
Comfort for the road warriors
Perhaps the biggest corporate travel trend that Saunders identified is a move toward what CWT has dubbed ‘B2B4E’ or business-to-business for employees; specifically, a move by companies to put an increased emphasis on the needs and concerns of workers who travel as part of their job when developing and reshaping corporate travel policies.
According to Saunders, this trend has been gaining traction over the last year, as a strong economy gives businesses more liberty in terms of their travel spend, while simultaneously increasing pressure on companies to retain high-performing team members who have more employment options to choose from.
“We’re talking a lot about the evolution of the corporate travel space,” Saunders explained. “Cost-savings and cost management are cornerstones of any corporate travel program, but there’s been an evolution in the industry with respect to how they work with their travellers, or who we call their employees.
“We’re in a relatively positive economic climate right now, so talent acquisition and retention are critical for companies. They really want to make sure that not only for the well-being of their employees and their effectiveness, they want to retain and attracting the best talent in the marketplace.”
Much of this new approach is centred around travel policies that prioritize employee comfort and convenience over cost, Saunders said, particularly to increase the performance of so-called “road warriors” who are often in crucial sales or account management roles.
“If you’re an infrequent traveller, maybe your company’s existing policy works, but if you’re constantly on the road, they’re really looking at shaping new policy,” she said.
“Travel takes a toll on employees’ well-being and companies want to know how to best support these employees. You want that person to be refreshed and work on the aircraft, as opposed to sitting at the back of the bus, so maybe instead of a minimum six-hour flight policy for business class, it’s now three hours. Hotel class policies are also being re-examined. Although one property may be slightly more expensive, they’re much more convenient for the traveller.
“You want to create a more positive travel experience to take some of that stress out of the equation.”
At your bleisure
Identified as a growing trend in recent years, the concept of ‘bleisure’ travel (business and leisure) also continues to grow, Saunders told PAX, a travel style that she expects to become increasingly commonplace as more millennials enter corporate roles involving travel.
“As the next generation of travellers are starting to become active in business roles, there’s more of a propensity to want to add on to a business trip,” she said. “The older generation wants to travel, conduct their business and head home, whereas the younger generation think ‘I’ve never been to Asia – if I fly all that way, I’m going to tack on a few days.’”
“We’re also moving away from the traditional two- or three-week holiday to shorter getaways. That’s very convenient to tack on to a business trip.”
The role of technology
In the name of improving client experience, Saunders also said that CWT is investing heavily in both human capital and technology this year, part of what she called the company’s Travel Experience transformation.
“In 2019, we’re making our single largest investment in traveller experience, by looking at the technology that our frontline travel counsellors are using to service their clients,” she said, explaining that the roles of messaging, chatbots and AI are part of the considerations. “We’re looking at globalizing the philosophy and the technology that underpins the way in which we deliver services. That’s an exciting opportunity for CWT.”