Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

How travelling for work has changed

lt's a new world and it forces many companies to reconsider and revise travel strategies and policies.

The Covid pandemic caused many changes in the workplace and travelling for work has also changed, so much so that people say work travel now means more work than ever. Inflation seems to be the main culprit as it has not only shaken global economies but also fundamentally changed the landscape of business travel.

Remember the good old days of lounging in comfy business lounges and enjoying lavish dinners on the company’s account without batting an eye? Not anymore. Times have changed. Sky-high ticket prices and tighter company wallets can sometimes make business trips feel more like boot camp than a perk, says Bonnie Smith, GM at Corporate Traveller.

“Business travellers are pinching pennies and facing more pressure to make the trip worth every cent. The fluctuating rand has not helped resulting in daily travel allowances barely covering the basics. And you know what they say about all work and no play: it is making these trips much less about glamour and more grind.”

The change is palpable according to the SAP Concur Global Business Travel Survey. Business travellers report significant budget cuts (40%), a surge in reduced overnight trips (32%) and a noticeable dip in the quality of accommodation (31%). In addition, the relentless hunt for cheaper fares has been felt by 31% of participants in the survey.

Smith says flights were understandably one of the first aspects to come under budget scrutiny. The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) reported that the average ticket price for business-related airfares rose by 72% in 2022. The numbers give a sense of the situation, but what is the reality for a business traveller trying to balance business goals with personal comfort?

ALSO READ: Ready to get back to business travel? Read this first

Toll of cheaper, less convenient flights

“Any frequent flyer will agree that business trips can be a hectic whirlwind of meetings and deadlines. But then you have to pick a cheaper, less convenient flight? Crazy early mornings or late nights, long layovers, or having to bounce between multiple airports get added to your workload.”

Instead of saving energy for the big meeting, you are left dealing with jet lag and travel fatigue. And the time you could spend prepping or chilling? Wasted on navigating the extra travel hassle. Add to this the discomfort of spending layovers on an airport bench because you were dropped from silver to bronze and the benefits that took some of the heavy lifting out of travel have vanished.

Smith says companies are also making sure they get bang for their buck. “Instead of a one day business trip with a single meeting, business travellers now find their itineraries packed. Multiple appointments, visits, reviews and the odd networking dinner thrown in. The rationale? If we spend so much to get you there, we might as well make the most of it.

“The result? The 2023 Quarterly Trends Report for the second quarter shows corporations are travelling, on average, 20% less than 2019. The unintended benefit is that it is better for the environment to batch meetings.”

Smith says that now is the right time to take a strategic rather than reactive approach to business travel budgeting. “TMCs are on the pulse of the travel industry. By joining forces with a company’s administrative team, a travel management company can devise a monthly travel budget perfectly suited to an organisation’s specific needs. Their extensive network and know-how can unlock global deals, allowing travellers to enjoy perks without the premium of business class flights.”

ALSO READ: Trends shaping business travel: Fuel costs, work-from-home policies and sustainability

How to handle travelling for work now

Smith says there are simple and easy ways to take some of the ‘grunt work’ out of business travel:

  • Special rates and perks: With global industry ties from a travel management company, travellers do not need to hunt for the best deals. They automatically get competitive rates, plus perks like lounge access or upgrades.
  • 24/7 support and safety: Travellers can skip the stress of problem-solving during hiccups. With round-the-clock support, any issue, big or small, gets addressed without the traveller having to handle it all.
  • Feedback and updates: A travel management company will keep the company’s travel policy fresh so travellers always have a streamlined experience. Regular tweaks based on feedback mean travellers spend less time voicing concerns and more time enjoying seamless journeys.
  • Easy expense management: Thanks to tech and tools, travellers do not have to dread the post-trip paperwork. Simplified expense tracking means less time documenting and more time focusing on the trip’s purpose.

“While all businesses need to have an eye on expenses, it is equally important to provide the necessary resources and flexibility when business travellers are on the road. After all, their success during these trips is directly linked to your overall success as an organisation.

“Overly tight travel rules can demotivate top performers. They need both freedom and the right tools to excel. Balancing costs with travellers’ genuine needs is the key to reaping the full return on investment of business travel,” Smith says.

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