The Travel Policy Trends Reshaping Business Travel

Today’s business travelers share a common mindset: travel before coronavirus and travel after the pandemic hit. If your corporate travel program has a travel policy that still operates under the terms and needs dictated by the “before,” you’re already playing catch-up.

Most travel managers and C-suite executives understand the benefits of a strong travel policy and have learned ways to encourage policy compliance, but compliance only has value if your policy addresses and responds to the current state of travel. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted travel more than any event in modern history, and travel managers are updating their policies accordingly. Here are the top trends to consider incorporating into your own organization’s travel policy.

Increased Traveler Engagement

Traditionally, the most progressive travel policies have been those that counterbalance business objectives with the needs of the traveler. As a result of COVID-19, the role of the traveler has been elevated to an even greater level in the policy setting process.

According to Betty Fix, Direct Travel’s Sr. VP of Global Client Strategies, companies should begin by interviewing key road warriors to gauge their comfort level with the recent changes and to understand any perceived barriers to travel. This is important because business travel can only resume once employees feel comfortable returning to the road, and some travelers may now see travel as a risk instead of as a perk. (You can download our Back to Business Travel Workbook, which addresses engaging with your travelers and other steps to make in resuming your travel program.)

In addition, Fix recommends creating a cross-functional team within your organization to foster buy-in on policy changes and garner recommendations from travelers. This internal team can also help by assessing areas of your previous policy that failed during your organization’s initial response to the crisis.

Reining in Booking Channels

Some corporate travel shortcomings that were most evident as a result of the pandemic are now being mitigated through the tightening of booking channels and the implementing of trip approval processes. This is evidenced in a recent survey from the Global Business Travel Association, which found that 66 percent of travel and procurement managers expect their companies to limit travelers from booking directly with suppliers or OTAs.

Controlling the channels through which travelers book is critical for a variety of reasons, including ensuring accurate data capture, managing risks, and spend oversight. Enforcing this in your policy can be done through using an automated trip approval process, which streamlines the complexities and regional travel variances posed by the pandemic.

Lora Sirizzotti, Director of Account Management at Direct Travel, points to revisions some companies have made to prevent travelers from booking non-refundable or no-change fares, opting instead for fares with flexible policies. This prevents another wave of cancellations, and subsequent loss of investment, like the initial surge that occurred at the onset of the pandemic.

Greater Reliance on Reporting

Travel policies go hand-in-hand with an organization’s Duty of Care platform and risk management strategy. By booking through the correct channels in compliance with travel policy, employees are easier to track and contact in the event of emergency. Travelers booking outside of a managed program create unnecessary risk for themselves and pose a liability to the company.

Fix predicts that more businesses will build regular reporting expectations into their travel program, such as on-the-road feedback from travelers. In turn, this may be used to determine which airlines, hotels, and car rental companies should be designated as preferred suppliers. Reporting also provides value in determining which trips are essential, for what purposes employees are traveling, and offers on-the-ground visibility into destination risk levels.

Balancing Safety and Savings

Of all the changes to travel policy currently making the rounds, none are more important than ensuring traveler health and safety. Supplier safety and sanitization measures have evolved to address COVID-19 concerns, and companies must update their own policies to match.

As Sirizzoti notes, the focus for most pre-pandemic policies was cost avoidance and savings, with less attention paid to safety and security. Businesses now have to weigh cost savings against traveler safety standards. For example, your new travel policy may take a more restrictive stance on ride sharing services, which provide a cost-effective transportation method but offer less rigorous cleaning protocol and oversight. Some policies, such as booking in advance, may still be relevant and provide value, allowing your organization to retain cost efficiencies and meet new traveler safety expectations.

In addition to influencing your supplier selection and booking process, safety standards also necessitate that your travel policy take into account previously unrecognized expenses. Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is now an essential part of the travel process, and your business should consider whether you will provide PPE or reimburse employees for PPE purchase. Other factors, like establishing a policy for travelers that become ill while traveling and requirements around self-quarantine must also be taken into account.

Implementing these policy changes is a key step in safely resuming your travel program, and the team at Direct Travel can help you elevate your policy to meet these evolving requirements. Contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation with a travel expert.