Around three quarters of US and Canadian travel managers report stricter booking policies post-COVID

1 March, 2022

We are increasingly seeing the return of business travel across the world, but we still remain far from certain what post-pandemic business travel will look like for corporate travel management. With the significant regional variation in recovery though, we can start to get some ideas of changing habits from those geographical areas more advanced with their rebound.

A new study from The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) shares some light on corporate travel managers observations across the US and Canada and suggests it might not be business–as–usual post-pandemic for corporate travel managers, programmes and policies.

Released in the ‘The Return to Business Travel: A New Paradigm on the Evolution of Buyers and Stakeholders Post-Covid’ report produced with travel and expense technology company Serko, GBTA shares responses from 161 corporate travel managers in the US and Canada from Sep-2021 and Oct-2021 on how will the pandemic and business travel recovery could change corporate travel programmes going forward; if pandemic-related changes to company travel policies are likely to remain permanent; and will the business travel ecosystem and travel programmes in 2022 look vastly different than they did in pre-pandemic 2019.

When the pandemic brought almost all travel to a halt there was a recognition of the important role of business travel in helping companies grow their revenue, workforces and share prices. But as we get back to business travel, the landscape has now changed, says Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA. “Travel managers are actively embracing evolution to determine what will be needed next,” she says.

“Now is the moment that corporate travel managers are moving from triage and temporary solutions that may have been required to address business travel during the pandemic, to a longer range, more considered view based on new requirements – from technologies to policies to processes – that will be the basis for the next chapter and best outcomes for companies, business travellers and managed business travel programmes,” adds Nick Whitehead, CMO, Serko.

Tightening of budgets may prove temporary

The pandemic forced many corporate travel programmes to introduce more booking policy restrictions. Seven in ten (71%) travel managers in the survey reported their company’s booking-related travel policies have become stricter due to the pandemic. However, these may prove to be just temporary measures as six in ten (61%) of those expect the changes to be temporary.

A greater reliance on agent assisted bookings

Booking business travel via an online booking tool (OBT) has declined during the pandemic, forcing a greater reliance on agent assisted bookings. Pre-pandemic, only 9% of travel managers said their company had a “high touch” model where travellers typically made “managed” bookings directly with a travel agent. Now, one in five (20%) said their company has a high touch model. 

To restore confidence in moving bookings back online, travel managers in the GBTA survey mostly pointed to the need for key features such as integrated destination health and safety information (85%), automatic ticket credits (77%), contextual policy applications (57%), and visually highlighted hotels that meet COVID safety protocols (53%).

Travel approvals have not only gone manual, but also multiple

In the current COVID-19 environment, travel programmes not only require manual approval of business trips, but many require manual approval by multiple people. Of those that do, two in five (42%) respondents to the GBTA survey said most of their manual processing requires multiple approvers (e.g. employee’s manager and HR employee).

Addressing leakage has become an even greater priority

Addressing leakage – the business travel bookings that are made outside a company’s preferred channels – has become an even greater priority. Half of travel managers (46%) in the survey said reducing leakage is a “greater” or “much greater” priority than before the pandemic or equal priority (40%) today as before the pandemic. Travel managers identified OBT features that would help reduce leakage including rich airfare information and imagery and NDC-enabled bookings.

Travel managers open to moving OBT provider

Interestingly, a sizeable number of travel managers in Canada and the US appear to be open to changing their company’s OBT in the next two to three years. Two in five survey respondents reported they were likely (13%) or considering (31%) changing their company’s OBT. Key features of most interest included enhanced user experience and innovations, enhanced content, easier management, and increased traveller satisfaction.

When it comes to OBT innovation, travel managers are clearly seeking to streamline the booking process and ensure alignment with corporate policies and goals, based on the survey responses. OBT features of most interest include personalised itinerary recommendations (78%) and conversational chatbot booking (73%) using intelligent technology (i.e., artificial intelligence) as well as insights into the environmental impact of the travel itinerary (61%).