Survey proves financial savings are not the be-all-and-end-all

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According to a recent AirPlus survey the UK is at the forefront of travel management in Western Europe.

The survey addressed 14 different micro-trends (see table below) and asked participants to categorise them as one of the following:

  • Already established in their company
  • Will become relevant in their company
  • Will not become relevant in their company

Table 1: Micro-trends were broadly divided into three groups

Safety, security, sustainability

(The Three Ss)

Procurement

Technology

Traveller safety

Benchmarking costs

Use of social media

Data security

Tightening travel policy

Mobile payments

Traveller comfort

Consolidating additional costs

Travel management mobile apps

Introduction of CSR

Global/regional consolidation of travel management

Corporate booking tools

Less travel due to virtual meetings

Integrating fleet management

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The survey, which comprised nearly 1000 individuals responsible for travel management within their company, showed that in two of the groups – the Three Ss and Procurement – the UK is consistently and significantly ahead of its Western European peer group in having already established these micro-trends. There are also four micro-trends for which the UK records the highest score in Western Europe. For three of these trends (CSR, benchmarking and policy), the UK is nearly 20 per cent above the average – a very large margin.

Overall the figures tell a story that UK companies manage travel in a rounded and strategic way. The higher procurement figures confirm cost control is essential; but the even higher figures for the Three Ss prove financial savings are not the be-all-and-end-all for UK travel managers.

Risk management dominates thinking worldwide

The consistently high figures suggest risk management has become a major, established priority of corporate travel programmes. Ultimately, this is all about protection: protecting human assets (traveller safety and comfort), protecting financial assets (data security) and protecting reputation (CSR).

The Three Ss dominate not only in the UK but also in Western Europe. The top ranked trend of all in the UK is traveller safety (71 per cent). No surprise here, as this has been a key priority globally since 9/11, however the introduction of the corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Acts (2007), has resulted in a continued emphasis on protecting travellers.

Companies don’t just want to keep their travellers safe. The same goes for their data and data security seems to be rising fast up corporate agendas. It’s the second most established micro-trend (69 per cent) in the study. Travel management companies are reporting increasingly detailed questioning from corporate clients about data security. A related concern is the vulnerability of corporate data carried by travellers on their laptops and mobile devices.

Within this category, traveller comfort also ranks with a very high 67 per cent of UK travel managers identifying it as a micro-trend. Travel management has never only been about cost, even in tough economic times. The bigger picture is that employees need to travel in reasonable comfort if they are to work productively during their trip. Comfort is also crucial for talent recruitment and retention.

CSR is now a mainstream concern in UK-based travel management: 64 per cent of respondents say it is already established in their programme, a figure which is way ahead of the Western European average of 44 per cent. In spite of the suggestion that sustainability issues might have been killed off by the economic problems of recent years, this figure shows the issue is still very much on the agenda for UK travel managers.

Procurement priorities focus on benchmarking, policy and consolidation

When it comes to benchmarking, the UK is considerably ahead of the rest of Western Europe at 64 per cent v 45 per cent. Many companies not only find it useful to compare pricing with other businesses in their sector or with similar travel patterns, but internal benchmarking is also an increasing trend. This allows different departments or subsidiaries to compare average prices and other important measures like days in advance or percentage of trips booked online.

Compliance is always a key focus and as well as driving cost reduction strategies, supports other priorities such as safety. 64 per cent of British travel managers say tightened travel policy is an established trend. This result appears to weaken recent theories which predicted that social media and mobile technology would make young, tech-savvy employees ignore the company travel programme to book trips through websites and tools of their own choosing, resulting in companies loosening their rules.

 Consolidation makes an appearance in the study in two ways – the consolidation of additional costs (eg. Taxis, dining) and global/regional consolidation of travel management.

According to Concur, dining and entertainment accounts for 17 percent of filed travel expenses with ground transport accounting for a further 6 per cent. These additional costs are well worth managing and it is encouraging to see that 56 percent of UK travel managers say they do consolidate such costs. It has not always been easy to manage these for a number of reasons, including inconsistent payment methods, unconsolidated supplier bases and lack of centralised booking systems.

Multinational travel management is more of a reality today for UK companies (41 per cent) than for businesses in Western Europe as a whole (34 per cent). This could reveal that travel programmes are more mature in the UK, or perhaps it’s as simple as UK companies are more likely to operate international subsidiaries. Either way, the challenge is the ability to balance centralised control, streamlined processes and economies of scale with ensuring best-in-class service in each market.

Technology – accepted as a key trend for future but UK lags behind Western Europe

The average scores for the technology group of micro-trends are much lower and based on these findings, UK travel managers do not emerge as leaders in technology, even though they do for other aspects of travel management.

By their very nature, new tech tools take time to establish themselves so perhaps the low scores might be expected. The exception to this rule is corporate booking tools, which have now been established in the market place for nearly two decades. The low figure for establishment of booking tools in Western Europe (33 percent) is one of the biggest surprises among the micro-trends and the significantly lower figure for the UK (23 per cent) is an even bigger surprise. There is no obvious reason why corporate booking tools, a 20 year old technology, is only established in 23 per cent of UK companies.  Perhaps travel managers recognise that while there is definitely a place for technology in travel management, there is no substitute for the expertise and experience of travel consultants. The ability to think creatively, to offer alternatives and to be there when things don’t go to plan is vital to the success of any travel programme.

However, UK travel managers did identify four key technology trends which will become more relevant in the near future:

  • Travel management mobile apps
  • Mobile payments
  • Corporate booking tools
  • Use of social media by travellers

Social Media’s place in corporate travel

Just over one in three respondents say their travellers are already using social media. Regardless of the quality of information they  are exchanging, the fact is that travellers are communicating about their corporate travel. As a result, a small but growing number of travel managers are starting to use social media themselves to engage with their travellers. The same goes for travel management companies, for instance, FCm uses social media to communicate travel alerts and travel updates.

Mobile payments appear to have a bright future

Paying by mobile phone is already an established micro-trend in 33 percent of UK companies – a surprisingly high figure for relatively new technology. Using a mobile device that they have to carry anyway is a very convenient options for travellers. For travel managers, the attraction lies in control, because strict limitations can be placed on how the number is used, such as the merchant, the date or the amount.

Travel management mobile apps

The same number, 33 per cent, say their company is deploying mobile phone apps for travel management purposes with a further 43 per cent saying the trend is on its way. Examples of uses include mobile expense reporting, itinerary sharing, pushing information about the travel programme such as policy.

Small print: The AirPlus study was conducted from September to November 2013 by the international market research company 2hm on behalf of AirPlus International. A total of 958 individuals were surveyed.