The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on corporate travel has been seismic, to say the least. The landscape has shifted suddenly and the ecosystem—more fragile than anyone anticipated—has been severely disrupted. Business travel and procurement professionals have been tasked with finding better ways to manage travel and expenses, and they are finding their footing with new best practices.
Unused Airline Tickets and Hotel Reservations. Covid -19 precipitated a need for deeper visibility into corporate travel spend, requiring travel managers to narrow in on out-of-policy spend, unused tickets and reservations modifications. Unused tickets and uncanceled hotel reservations, in particular, cause significant financial burdens on companies trying to control costs. Travel and procurement executives have turned to TMCs, booking tools, and price-assurance solutions to surface unused travel credit data, not only for their own reporting purposes but also for the traveler at the time of booking. They’re also relying on technology providers to accept and process different forms of travel credit (such as UATP cards), which have been on the rise as travel vendors continue to issue them for canceled bookings.
Emerging Payment Tech. Travel managers also are adopting emerging payments technology. Hotels, retailers and restaurants everywhere now are supporting touchless payment technologies, such as QR codes and NFC-powered mobile wallets (e.g. Apple Pay and Google Pay). Regardless of the pandemic, today’s travel programs must be equipped to ingest and reconcile all these emerging payment types. Linking virtual cards directly to a corporate ledger and mobile wallets, for example, not only allows companies to assert greater spend control, but also encourages travelers to practice contactless behavior. This type of capability will continue to emerge in the weeks and months ahead as the adoption of contactless payments continues to grow and corporate travel slowly returns.
Mobile Travel Safety and Advice. Meanwhile, the need for clear traveler communication and tracking has also been escalated to the forefront. More companies are now using mobile journey notifications to give travelers important information as they travel during the pandemic and to remind them about company policies or trip budgets. These notifications afford travelers valuable peace of mind while traveling, and also play an important role in controlling costs and strengthening policy.
Progressive Travel Policies. As corporate travel volumes slowly return to pre-pandemic levels, demand for a modern travel experience at work will heighten. Corporate travel managers are moving away from the traditional “set and done” approach to enforcing booking policy. Instead, they are now relying on data and analytics to facilitate more relevant, real-time policy adjustments which in turn drives compliance. A main driver behind this shift is the new profile of the modern corporate traveler: Millennials. They make up a larger portion of workers than ever before and are rising to management levels within their organizations. It’s well documented that this group of travelers have little patience or use for archaic, dated workplace technologies.
New Data Nets. Some travel managers are starting to utilize booking content aggregator solutions to allow travelers to book however they wish, while still maintaining full oversight of bookings. This important travel data can then be used to communicate with travelers about key topics, such as the importance of following policy, the value of negotiated rates and more.
Pre-Trip Approval. Another important characteristic of the Millennial workforce is their predisposition for independence and employer trust. These are critical traits for travel managers to recognize and understand as part of their acclimation to the new normal. While independence and trust are great for productivity and morale, it doesn’t always translate to appropriate booking behaviors or policy compliance. Consequently, pre-trip approvals have re-emerged as travel managers attempt to understand traveler needs and control costs prior to expenses being incurred. During a pandemic that has left few industries unscathed—and has seriously strained travel budgets—imagine the ability to ensure all departments and travelers are adhering to cost cuts by automatically tying budgets to pre-trip approvals and expenses. It’s a silver lining to a dark cloud.
Better Than Before
Every travel dollar will be more heavily scrutinized as companies emerge from travel hibernation. Travel managers will look for new ways to gain comprehensive visibility and tighter control on spend, whether from travel budgeting, sourcing, expenses and beyond.
When business travel does return (and it will!), it will be better managed than ever before. Out of all the upheaval and chaos brought on by the pandemic, a more interconnected and intelligent industry will rise. So while things may be bleak at the moment, this is not the end of the world, but rather the early beginnings of a travel management renaissance.
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