Business travel is changing and could become more important than ever

22 March, 2022

It is often said that we don’t always recognise the importance of what we have until it’s gone. Whether that’s friends, colleagues, suppliers, or in the corporate travel sector, travel management companies. “In a world where moments really matter, one of lockdown’s legacies is that the value of meeting travellers face-to-face has never been so profoundly understood,” says Drew Crawley, chief commercial officer at American Express Global Business Travel (AmexGBT).  

It is already clearly apparent that businesses and people want to travel, and ultimately find a reliable programme that means they feel safe when travelling for business. However, as Mr Crawley acknowledges, we will likely be encumbered by uncertainty with the travel industry for some time to come.

“Market dynamics that impact the supply and demand curve will make pricing and expenses, including for corporate travel, an onerous task,” he explains. With Governments still prone to implementing new rules, restrictions and protocols that affect business travellers and travel managers at a moment’s notice the future remains far from clear.

In spite of the corporate travel challenges, the AmexGBT executive remains “fervently optimistic” about the sector’s future, “because B2B travel partners are designed to manage disruption and simplify complexity for business trips” with a collective goal across the industry to keep travellers moving seamlessly. “It’s what makes our sector fundamental to economic and social progress,” he says.

Travel and meetings managers will be increasingly visible in 2022

AmexGBT’s ‘Business Travel in 2022 and Beyond’ white paper highlighted that travel and meetings managers’ responsibilities will be more integrated with other departments as mobility becomes central to the culture of organisations, such as travel management companies, that need to bring distributed teams together. They’re also helping set the agenda for sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) and will play a leading role in helping organisations with travel programmes and corporate travellers understand and adapt to cultural evolution.

Pandemic ‘marks start of a new era’ for business travel

As the skies emptied across the globe in spring 2020 and travel almost all but stopped as the world went into lockdown, many predicted an end to business travel. Two years on, “we now know we were seeing the opposite,” says Paul Abbott, CEO, AmexGBT. “The pandemic was the start of a new era – one in which travel is more important to businesses than ever before,” he says.

The office used to drive culture – now it will be travel

The world of work has changed – working from anywhere has become commonplace. Now the shackles of the office environment has been relaxed workers don’t want to return and employers now know that a new flexibility is required. In an era of flexible work, “travel is now how companies build a culture,” according to Mr Abbott and culture will be key to helping them succeed.

“Gone are the days when you could fly to a destination, go to an office and expect everyone to be there. Today, live contact with colleagues requires careful planning and coordination – every trip will be an event,” notes the AmexGBT CEO.

Business travel taking on new role as ‘catalyst of culture’

Business travel is therefore taking on a new role as “the catalyst of culture,” says Mr Abbott as weekly, monthly or quarterly get togethers become the means by which employees bond, collaborate and innovate. “The line between business travel and meetings will disappear as the breeding ground for culture shifts away from the office towards regular coordinated travel,” he predicts.

Less commuting actually means more business travel

It is clear that technology substitution and new working practices will influence types of travel and reduce the need for frequent (and often needless office meetings). In fact,rather than stifle business travel, videoconferencing is already a stimulant for meeting in person, according to Mr Abbott. Industry insiders are also optimistic, he says, with seven out of ten corporate travel decision makers believing more remote work will lead to a more dispersed workforce and more business travel.

This means an expanded remit and higher purpose for travel managers

For travel managers, this means an expanded remit and higher purpose. “They will be the new custodians of corporate culture,” in Mr Abbott’s view, helping colleagues gather and succeed. “Internal travel, once the first line item to face CFO scrutiny, is becoming a strategic investment in people, while external travel will remain a true differentiator for successful organisations,” he explains.

Technology enables workforce flexibility, but business travel and meeting in person ‘makes it work and thrive’

In a complex operating environment, today’s successful businesses must be more flexible, inclusive and responsible than ever before. “The pressure to adapt is intense,” says Mr Abbott, but thinking more, and thinking differently, about the movement of people “will help organisations rise to the challenge,” he says.

“Technology enables workforce flexibility, but it’s business travel and meeting in person that makes it work and thrive. Managed well, it can make companies more sustainable, inclusive and turn dispersed groups of people into unified teams. In essence, business travel can create a culture. Companies who realise this will take flight. Those who don’t, will be left behind,” he adds.