Flying for ‘purpose, rather than presence’ – confectionary giant Mars highlights how appetite for business travel will change after pandemic

It was back in the late 1950s that the enduring slogan ‘a Mars a day helps you work, rest and play’ was coined to promote the chocolate snack. Now, more than 50 years on, the company Mars has provided the world with perhaps another milestone moment after revealing its associate-centric, hybrid and sustainable future of work concept.

The confectionary and pet food giant revealed in Aug-2021 that with work looking different than it did before the COVID-19 pandemic, and recognising the many lessons learned over the last 18 months, it has “a tremendous chance to reimagine our workplace rituals, policies, and habits”. This includes some significant changes in its travel policy that provides a viewpoint into the future of corporate travel.

The flexible, hybrid future of work strategy from Mars is  one that reimagines where, when and how work gets done, it says, to “maximise efficiency and empower” associates, all while “preserving what’s best about our culture”.

This is based around the four key pillars of hybrid ‘working’, ‘office’, ‘travel’ and ‘meetings’, which are heavily linked together. It is the ‘travel’ and ‘meetings’ that will alarm the corporate travel sector the strongest.

Notably, Mars calls for travel for “purpose rather than presence,” and aims to cut business travel globally by at least half compared with 2019 levels in a move to “improve the health and wellbeing of our people, enhance business performance, and positively impact the world we want tomorrow”.

For meetings, Mars says they “must be purposeful” in the future and find “a sustainable balance between” collaboration in meetings – whether face-to-face or virtual – with time for focus. This it hopes to achieve by “decreasing hours spent in meetings” and increasing the use of “tools that allow associates to contribute on their own timetable, using asynchronous collaboration”.

It was clear that businesses would reduce travel levels post-COVID, with further substitution of meetings through technology, but the levels suggested by Mars are higher than many may have perhaps envisaged.

Let’s emphasise the wording. This is not talk of just halving travel, but taking out more than half of the levels seen in 2019, a peak year for travel in many international businesses. This could trim the company’s air miles by around 144 million each year compared with 2019, reports The Times. That is the approximate distance that the planet Mars is from the Sun.

Mars – the company, not the planet – like many, is on a sustainability drive and understands that being an ethical and diverse business is becoming even more important to people nowadays. “Our responsibility as a global business, with an environmental footprint the size of a small country, is to help drive the solutions needed for the planet,” says Barry Parkin, its chief procurement and sustainability officer.

Businesses across the world are grappling with decisions over how staff who previously spent most of their time in the office could and should operate in the future. Where and how they work will obviously have a knock-on effect on travel. However, the path to sustainability will ultimately drive the biggest changes in business travel policy.

The Mars ‘purpose, rather than presence’ outlook is likely to be shared by many others. In factBoston Consulting Group (BCG) will no longer fly prospective graduate hires across Europe to be wined and dined on international trips, reports The Financial Times, following a trend among companies at attempting to reduce their carbon footprint and delivering on Net-Zero pledges.

Business travel accounts for more than 75% of many professional services firms’ carbon emissions, prompting groups such as BCG, KPMG and Deloitte. The Financial Times reports that BCG has also banned its consultants from taking flights from Paris to Nice, while staff at KPMG’s London office are required to take the train for trips to Leeds, Manchester, Paris or Brussels.

The 50% business travel reduction may be a new benchmark for the industry, but the loss may actually be much higher. The chair of PwC UK has said he expects business trips by his firm will be reduced by about two-thirds compared with pre-pandemic levels. Maybe that 50% could actually be at the lower end of the scale.

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