Expert insights

Applying nudge theory to business travel and meetings in 2018

20 February 2018 by Trevor Elswood

Trevor Elswood considers how behavioural economics can optimise sustainable savings, productivity and employee wellness.

At Capita Travel and Events, we’ve been working with individuals who were part of the British government’s Behavioural Insights Team, also known as the ‘Nudge Unit’.

The team developed a theory known as EAST (Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely), which is used to influence behaviours through positive reinforcement.

Capita Travel and Events has applied the EAST concept to travel – which makes me believe that we are leading our industry in the area of behavioural economics. One of the reasons that the theory transfers so well to the world of travel is that it can achieve ‘non-forced compliance’ – so whether an organisation has a mandated policy or not, it can benefit from impressive results.

What did the nudge unit achieve using EAST?

The results from the nudge team’s trial in the area of payroll giving to charitable donations shows how small changes can help charities and givers to support good causes. Here’s a simple overview of what happened with the application of EAST:

  • An email sent = 5% improvement
  • A personalised email to named individuals = 7% improvement
  • As above with an incentive = 11% improvement
  • A personalised email from CEO = 12% improvement
  • A personalised email from CEO and an incentive = 17% improvement

In another example, the HMRC’s trials to reduce overdue tax returns looked at the impact of changing one sentence, applying data trends to personalise the message.

They began with the message: “Nine out of 10 people in the UK pay their tax on time”, which saw a 33.6% improvement. Then they used: “The great majority of people in (the taxpayer’s local area) pay their tax on time, but you are one of the few people that have not paid their tax on time”, which produced a 39% improvement in payments.

In a further step, letters explained how the taxes would help improve local services, and pointed out what would disappear without funding. Together, the tweaks saw £210m in overdue tax paid.

Applying behavioural economics to travel

Once we saw how nudge was being used in other areas, we looked at how it could be applied in business travel, using the four CORE principles below.

1. Calculation: Do the calculation for people so it’s very clear

Don’t just assume that people all make conscious and logical decisions. A great example of this is our new smart meetings calculator, making the total trip cost easy to find.

2. Obscure: Take obscure data and turn it into something meaningful

For example, this principle shows itself in the number of hours of lost productivity from time spent travelling, and the impact this also has on work-life balance.

3. Relevant: Use the data to make numbers relevant and useful

In the world of business travel, this can mean something as straightforward as giving travellers quick-view comparisons in their portal before they make a booking, to show how their individual travel behaviours compare with other people and/or colleague averages. You look at it and think: “I’m doing well and want to stay here" or "I need to change.”

4. Expand: Expand important outcomes

For example, use smaller values to create larger, higher impact numbers with a different focus. A £2 average saving on a room rate seems meaningless, yet when you cost that for a full year for all travellers, people will see the greater impact of their booking decisions.

Behavioural nudging and Smarter working

Our Smarter Working Programme is comprised of several stages, including behavioural nudging.

First comes our data insight. By collecting data from travel, expenses, finance and other internal and external sources, we establish the wider impact of travel and meetings on people and business performance. Looking at connections in the data helps identify potential issues and opportunities – so we know what we can and need to change. 

Next, we use qualitative research, taking a more detailed look at why the results are the way they are, i.e. why travellers and meetings arrangers are making certain decisions. 

Then we survey sample trial groups and test the hypothesis of nudge communication and process changes that will help us achieve the outcomes we identified from the data. Finally, we implement a scaled-up version of the work.

Results from recent pilot programmes

The results from some of our recent pilot programmes give you fantastic clues as to what’s possible with Smarter Working.

In the first example, we prompted travel arrangers to make smarter buying decisions and drove an incredible 41% decrease in UK domestic air demand and an 11% decrease in rail demand, suggesting an increased use of virtual solutions. Furthermore, compliance to hotel programmes increased by 7% and rail lead times booked more than seven days in advance increased by a further 5%, reducing the average ticket price by 19%.

For a second business, we reduced the number of air trips by an incredible 16% and increased online adoption of air bookings by 19%, with hotel online adoption increasing to 94%. Overall, the number of trips including hotel bookings was reduced by 9%, which increased productivity levels throughout the organisation.


For more information on how nudge theory and Smarter working can optimise sustainable savings, productivity and employee wellness, contact our experts at Capita Travel and Events.  

Interested? Let’s have a chat about your company’s travel, meetings and events objectives - from the stuff that keeps you awake at night, to the everyday experiences of your employees! Call us on 0330 390 0340, or submit the details below, with an idea of the times that suit you for a call.