How to rebuild a travel programme that works for your company?
Only ten weeks passed between the first reporting of a novel coronavirus in China and the declaration of a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. This is a period of time so brief, you’ve probably had expense reports pending for longer. Few in the travel industry could have predicted the breadth and magnitude of the outbreak’s impact that resulted in one-third of the global population living under some form of lockdown restrictions.
During this time, corporate travel was a sort of “canary in the coal mine” for the wider travel industry. Corporate travel felt the impact early from cancelled meetings and blanket business travel bans. Leisure soon followed.
Likewise, and encouragingly, corporate travellers are now the first to emerge in South Africa’s alert level 3. Businesses are looking to regain some semblance of business as usual, and road warriors are eager to engage face-to-face, once again, with clients, customers and colleagues. But the world is changed, and your business may also be changed. While it may seem like a daunting undertaking at the moment, now is the time to look at your business travel programme and make sure that it works for you and is aligned to the times.
Consider an interim travel policy
“These are strange times, indeed, and whichever level you’re looking at – provincial, national, or global – things are changing rapidly and unexpectedly, with little regard for what we predict or hope will transpire,” says Oz Desai, General Manager of Flight Centre Corporate Traveller. “During this time of uncertainty, business travel policies need to be more flexible than ever to respond to the new, albeit ever-shifting, normal.”
In this context, overhauling your standing travel policy may be hasty and short-sighted. A much more practical approach is to implement an interim travel policy. Inherently agile, an interim travel policy is intended to bridge a period of disruption, with a view that things will eventually return to ‘normal’.
A travel policy is a very detailed document– outlining each step of a traveller’s journey, from planning and approval to duty of care and expenses. An interim policy must address each of these steps while taking into account your business’ current financials and travel requirements alongside risk factors and restrictions.
Traveller-centric change management
Any organisation’s greatest asset is its people. Be sure to keep your employees’ interests and needs at the centre of your travel programme and any change you make. “In a time where we find corporate travel budgets cut, exacerbated by persistent travel restrictions, travellers are bound to feel apprehensive about sweeping changes to company travel policy.” Says Desai. “The best way to provide reassurance during this time is to open up channels for two-way communication and include your employees in the policy change process.”
Ensure that your employees have a platform to provide constructive feedback so that your travel policy is relevant, pertinent and effective. Be sure to acknowledge any feedback received and work together with employee stakeholders and your Travel Management Company (TMC) to determine how to best respond. Transparency throughout the process is essential.
If your company is facing decreased cash flow, or you’re just looking to optimise budgets and safeguard against further economic downturn, an interim travel policy can offer some temporary financial reprieve during volatile times.
“Cutting travel costs, of course, must be balanced with employee satisfaction and productivity – and safety is always a non-negotiable,” says Desai. “But there are still ways you can reduce your travel spend with an interim travel policy.”
You can look at reducing your maximum nightly hotel rate, while still ensuring accommodation meets the highest standard of safety and cleanliness – two factors that are more important than ever right now. And for travellers on extended stays, you may want to reduce per diems and mandate long-stay accommodations such as apartment-style hotels.
Mandated duty of care
Your employees’ physical and mental wellbeing, while always a top priority for corporate travel programmes is now, more than ever, a contributing factor for employee satisfaction. Desai explains, “With business travel during COVID-19, there are a lot of moving parts, and the last thing travellers want to worry about are issues of health, safety and unexpected restrictions. Furthermore, when your employees feel looked after, they are more likely to exhibit higher morale, increased productivity and company loyalty.”
It may be worth mandating the use of tools that ensure traveller safety when abroad. Corporate Traveller’s intuitive chatbot Sam:] is a great tool when it comes to duty of care. Sam:] provides destination information such as emergency service contact details, updates travellers on security concerns and allows them to check-in using their live location. Travel managers can rest easy knowing that they’re travellers are timeously made aware of any security threats and are able to access support in real-time.
To facilitate the safeguarding of travellers, keep up-to-date with travel restrictions through your local government. An automated and centralised travel management platform, such as Corporate Traveller’s YOUR.CT, which is outfitted with a live WorldAware tracker, can help you stay on top of regional concerns while offering a security system for travellers.
There’s no one-size-fits-all example when it comes to creating an interim travel policy – something that works for one company could prove disastrous for another. But you need not go it alone. “Partnering with a trusted TMC can help you through this policy change process – evaluating what’s most important, tightening up your duty of care policy, and getting your business and your travellers back to the more productive matters of business,” concludes Desai.