For some organisations, it was travel as usual during the pandemic. Infrastructure and logistics providers led the way as essential travel became the industry buzz-phrase of 2020. By contrast, in many companies with large, city centre-based operations, travel stopped completely.
Twelve months on, the trend has changed from essential to purposeful travel. Many companies are now segmenting travel, separating trips that are either income-generative – like sales pitches – and those that can be conducted just as effectively remotely.
But has the pendulum swung too far and are we in danger of losing the benefits of spontaneous human interaction? Is it necessary, or even possible, to have a business case for every trip?
The way things used to be
Historically, customers knew what they spent and where they spent it, but not how or why. Budget holders didn’t consider these questions, partly because it wasn’t their responsibility, and partly because the answer lay in the ‘too difficult box.
Things have changed. Segmentation is relevant now because everyone from the boardroom down has a vested interest in travel and the risks associated with travel. The ability to travel, the desire to travel and the accompanying risks are now heavily governed. So, instead of one or two people ‘owning’ travel, business travel has become more collaborative.
Senior management interest in travel is at an all-time high, whilst multiple stakeholders provide different insights into the impact of travel on risk, emissions and employee wellbeing. All of which must be factored into travel policies.
Covid-19 provided the leverage for organisations to engage and understand why their people travel and why smarter business connections are the way forward.
Companies are realising that travel affects how their employees behave. We approach this by helping customers understand the best way to connect.
We are helping our customers to engage with their stakeholders in a way that maximises productivity and organisation-wide success. These conversations include the ways in which employees can contribute to their organisations and live purposeful lives.
Defining purposeful travel
Different organisations apply different criteria depending on sector and culture, but most define purposeful as trips that are income generative and which employees are willing to take.
Post-Covid, day-to-day meetings on a Monday morning that require attendees to travel substantial distances are off the menu. In contrast, revenue-generative trips, whether sales pitches, relationship development or contract dependent are very much on it.
Recognising the value of human connections, companies are also prioritising travel for new employees recruited during the pandemic but who have not yet met colleagues face-to-face or even visited their workplaces.
Unseen value of travel
Over-justifying travel jeopardises the unseen value of the spontaneous meeting. It also undermines empowerment of the employee. In a constantly changing world, travellers need to make travel decisions based on both pre-set criteria and prevailing local circumstances as seen this summer in Bolton and Leicester.
Is the trip internal or external? The considerations can be quite different. An external meeting may be instigated by a customer, who may either wish or have been instructed to do in person. Responsibility still lies with the individual to weigh up the personal and corporate impacts of their actions.
The challenge for employers is to drill down into travel to distinguish between purposeful and un-purposeful travel such as trips disconnected between trip output and the money spent. Once that’s done, un-purposeful travel can then be reduced.
Employers are now more aware of and responsive to employee wellbeing; from any pre-existing health conditions to the impact of pressure from family, peers or press on whether to travel.
Travellers are increasingly savvy and can be segmented in their willingness or desire to travel. As the vaccine rollout continues, and international borders open up, travellers want to understand risks around their destinations.
Travel policies are increasingly empowering travellers by encouraging them to think about why they are travelling and whether they can do so in a different way.
As organisations return to travel, employers want to ensure that the available backup is responsible, measured, and staggered. In the short term, every trip is likely to be scrutinised in terms of the risk to the traveller and the company. In the medium term, things will level off. Video conferencing is here to stay, especially where there is no determinable outcome to the trip and a suitable alternative solution is available.
While segmentation is a useful tool to justify travel, over-justifying travel carries its own risks. When people connect. it can bring out the weird and wonderful solutions, shared experiences and spontaneity, which simply can’t be segmented.
Segmenting business travel is about knowing which trips do not have a purpose and making informed decisions. The choice between travel and alternatives existed pre-Covid. What didn't exist was the drive to understand why and how we connect.