Survey: What do travel buyers care about now? It’s not payments.

A BCD Travel study of 200+ travel buyers uncovered surprising shifts in priorities related to modern corporate travel policies. It turns out that safety and compliance rank higher in priority than payments, compared to past years.

The study found travel buyers aren’t as concerned with traveler satisfaction as they were in 2023. And, payment isn’t as important as it was in past years. So, what do buyers care about? Duty of care, policy compliance and cost control.

Most travel buyers say that their company has a dedicated travel policy in place. It’s what’s in those policies that may vary. Seven of 10 travel buyers say their policies align with company goals and have leadership support, Six in 10 focus on costs, and three in ten prioritize the traveler. Surprisingly, only 15% base their policies on KPIs and traveler feedback.

What’s covered in a travel policy?

Travel policies play a big role in making sure business trips run smoothly. The travel policy is basically a company’s playbook for managing business travel. It helps keep costs in check and lays out the rules employees should follow when planning trips. These policies can cover a lot of ground, from the purpose of the trip to traveler well-being and even “bleisure” (business and leisure) travel.

Surveyed travel buyers said their top two concerns now are trip purpose (like client vs. internal meetings) and pre-trip approvals. Sustainability is becoming more important, but less than half of participants said sustainable travel in their policy. This aligns with a BCD survey from July 2023 showing only 45% of companies have targets for sustainable travel. Topics like bleisure travel, remote work, and DE&I (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) are less frequently included.

Many companies have specific travel policies for senior staff, certain business units, and frequent travelers. However, only 12% have written policies for travelers with accessibility or neurodivergent needs. Less than one in 10 address special needs like nursing mothers, LGBTQIA+ travelers, or considerations around gender, religion, or age.

Updating travel policies comes with its own set of challenges

Educating travelers tops the list of pain points when it comes to policy updates. Managing exceptions, regional differences, and ensuring compliance round out the challenges.

“Traveling for work can be stressful. You want your employees to be able to access all the resources they need to make the process as simple and efficient as possible – and that’s why regular policy communication is so important,” said Teri Miller, BCD’s executive vice president of the Global Client Team. “Technology has streamlined traveler communications, creating ways for companies to easily provide relevant, timely information that can keep travelers safe. For example, clients use our TripSource® platform to quickly reach travelers at different times through the planning and trip cycle.”

BCD and its consulting division, Advito, offer guidance on writing effective travel policies and engaging with travelers.

  • Communicating with travelers before, during, and after trips is key. TripSource Messaging keeps them in the loop with risk alerts, flight updates, emergency notifications, policy details, and trip reminders.
  • Traveler engagement increases awareness, influences behavior, and boosts satisfaction.
  • Managed travel teams can also survey travelers to collect valuable feedback on their experiences and use it to refine policies.

Introduce new hires to the travel policy as soon as possible

Most companies use their intranet to share travel policy updates, followed by direct emails. About a third use online booking tools (OBTs) or employee training sessions. BCD recommends introducing travel policies during employee onboarding because that’s when people are mostly like to be completely attentive and eager to learn and follow company operating policies.

While over half of travel buyers feel their travel policy is effective, only a third are confident in their communication methods. Almost half rate their policy communication as moderately effective, highlighting the challenge of educating travelers.

Common ways to enforce travel policies include:

  • Highlighting policy-compliant options in the OBT
  • Auditing travel expenses
  • Regularly communicating policy changes through the company’s various channels

“We know from experience that one of the most effective ways to communicate with travelers and influence their behavior is to put relevant messaging directly in the booking path. It not only results in increased compliance, but also leads to a more personalized and dynamic shopping experience for the traveler,” said Miller. “Advito’s Engage team uses merchandising in our clients’ OBTs to drive policy education when and where it matters the most – right when they are making a purchase decision.”

Cost control and the travel policy

Over half of travel buyers have cut their travel budgets in recent years, with almost all implementing cost-control measures. Popular strategies include encouraging online meetings, reducing non-essential travel, promoting fewer but longer trips, and limiting the number of employees on a single trip. Other measures include price assurance tools, strict expense control, booking lower classes of air travel, and encouraging the use public transportation instead of taxis when it’s safe and feasible.

Updating travel policies

Updating travel policies involves input from various stakeholders, including finance, HR, procurement, security, and the executive board. Most respondents updated their policies within the past year. Regular updates are crucial to meet the evolving needs of travelers and the industry, ensuring a consistent, safe, managed, and cost-effective travel framework.

How trends are shaping travel policies

Nearly two-thirds of travel buyers believe sustainability, safety, and security will significantly impact travel policies in the coming years. Other influential trends include technology, New Distribution Capability (NDC), traveler well-being, and new traveler needs. DE&I and bleisure travel are less likely to drive major policy changes, but they remain relevant.

While traveler well-being has slightly decreased in importance, companies should remember that business travel can be tiring and affect overall happiness. Supporting traveler well-being can positively affect employee retention, especially in today’s competitive talent market. BCD helps clients adapt their travel policies, communicate effectively with travelers, and provide the right tools to support traveler well-being.

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