Embedding care and experience in business travel
Finally, the world of travel is back, and since the road to recovery has been uneven, business travel has changed radically. During our recent ITILITE Top Drawer Talks in partnership with ETHRWorld, Ashish Kishore, Advisor at ITILITE, shared, “Care has taken center stage in the world of business travel.”
As care becomes centric to the post-pandemic workplace, the needle moves closer to designing personalized experiences for employees at every touchpoint in their professional lives. The approach to care is shifting from the primitive one-size-fits-all approach to a more affirmative and proactive process in all work matters, including business travel.
Although business travel is an integral aspect of work-life, it can also be the cause of worry and anxiety owing to intense planning and expense management needs.
Hence, agile organizations have mitigated all negative emotions from travel by replacing manual processes with tech-led automated platforms. By digitizing the process – from itinerary planning to receiving reimbursements, employees are empowered to deal with each step effortlessly and create savings at the same time.
In a recent fireside chat between Ashish Kishore, Advisor at ITILITE, and Hitesh Budhbhatti, General Manager, Bennett Coleman & Company, Ltd., they reflected upon the key practices in business travel aligned with the care and support needs of the employees.
Here are some of the key reflections from the session.
Revival of corporate travel: The recovery curve
The most significant change influencing our perspective about the return of corporate travel is the rising vaccination rates. Hitesh mentions, “With the reducing potency of the COVID-19 virus, opening office spaces, easing travel restrictions, and of course, increasing vaccinations, many organizations are now proactively figuring out the future of work—which includes the role of business travel.”
Adding on to the recovery path of business travel, Hitesh adds, “ It’s been over two years of lost personal connection, especially with the potential customers. Hence, corporates are looking to get back to business travel to regain that lost advantage in a short period of time.” He further adds that core industries and functions like manufacturing, agriculture, and marketing are readily making travel a part of business as compared to the non-core functions, which are still evaluating whether to go back to offline meetings or continue with online meetings.
Another trend that our speakers observed during this session was the changing expectations of employees with respect to travel. There’s a change in the behavior of employees, especially who are working remotely, and their expectation is that duty of care should be extended where they are currently working.
Another key observation that Hitesh shared is the requisite of simplified travel policies and that employers are looking out for customized travel processes according to various needs of the business as well as the employees.
Embedding digital and data into planning
Corporates will have to quickly adapt to the expectations of the world of work and workers to the many changes in the business travel. While unpredictability will continue to be a part of business travel, organizations would have to play their part well and smartly by leveraging technologies and processes.
Quoting an example from his organization, Hitesh shared that previously at BCCL, the travel desk was operated in a traditional manner. People were deployed to take care of the travel desk, and all travel requirements like airline tickets, guest houses, hotels, trains, cabs, etc., were routed through the travelers after the approval by the managers. The process was complex and came with a lot of challenges. The two-fold challenges that were posed by the manual process included:
- Lack of complete visibility of the travel
- Unavailability of real-time challenges
- High TAT
These challenges led BCCL to digitize the business travel process. Hitesh added, “We have eliminated the travel desk completely for domestic travel. There is no manual intervention required for an employee for domestic travel whatsoever except the two to five-person cases that require exception management. Initially, it was not easy because of the usual difficulties in adoption, internal resistance, process adherence, and overall chain management. So it took us a good three to six months to fully implement it in its true form.”
According to him, the following were the key outcomes post–digitization of the travel process:
- The TAT reduced by more than 75%
- Reduction in traveler’s resource by 80%
- Reduction in overall travel cost because of the reduction in travel time or the turnaround time was about 15 to 20%
- Better visibility through analytics and access to information like department-wise expenditures
Agility, flexibility, adaptability will define the success of corporate travel.
As per our experts, employee safety and comfort are two crucial factors that can make or break the travel experience. Ashish and Hitesh both stressed upon giving the employee or traveler greater control over decisions that affect their sense of comfort and safety.
Today employees expect to travel with advanced planning and expectations like- better hotels that assure delivery in terms of hygiene and safety, better cabs, flexibility in check-in and check-out, cancellations or rescheduling of trips, and personalized experiences based on safety and comfort.
Organizations should be seeking customized solutions to fulfill the expectations of their employees’ travel needs. An end-to-end travel management software solution with customization will revolutionize the travel experience for employees by making the process more agile, flexible, and adaptable.
Further, Hitesh also said that rocketing the traveler experience will not only be defined by the corporates or the technology, but the entire travel ecosystem would have to collaborate.
He adduces, “The corporates will have to look at exploiting the best solution/tech available and reinvent on a regular basis. Also, the key players in the travel ecosystem, like airlines, hotels, OTAs, TMCs, etc., will have to collaborate. Travel is a fragmented industry, and it requires all of us to come together to be able to address on meet the requirements of these employees’ travel by leveraging real-time data planning, ensuring the traveler’s comfort and transparency, which are going to be key drivers of the success in corporate travel.”
Traveler Care is about more than just your legal Duty of Care obligation. A well-rounded traveler care solution is a necessity in today’s world of travel that not only focuses on travelers’ comfort but also on their experience, safety, and security.
Summarizing the discussion, Ashish and Hitesh expressed that organizations need to empower the employees to decide on their travel. They have to focus on policies that will improve agility, flexibility, and adaptability. Last but not least, they also advised organizations to invest in technologies like AI to make travel more transparent, simplified, and experiential.
Here is a free business travel risk assessment checklist you can give your employees to ensure their safety.