Travel is a work perk

SINGAPORE, 26 October 2015: Asia’s business travellers are in the driving seat when it comes to choosing airlines and hotels for their business trips.

The latest research shows 69% of Asian business travellers have the freedom to book airlines and 74% hotel stays, either from a pre-approved list or with no policy restrictions at all.

They are demanding more flexible travel policies from their companies, while they consider work trips fundamentally a travel experience.

These were the key findings of the Asian Business Travellers Report, commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board, and released last week at the Asia Travel Leaders Summit.  Amadeus Asia Pacific and Visa Card provided supporting data on airline bookings and travel spend.

inside no 6Asia is now the largest market accounting for 38% of USD1 trillion in business travel spend, worldwide and growing fast. (Four times faster than North America, more than twice as fast as Europe).

Conducted by McKinsey & Company, the report surveyed over 2,500 people across five key markets  in Asia; Singapore, Indonesia, India, Japan and China.

The five country markets represent 68% of Asia’s population and 78% of the region’s business travel spend.

Highlights from the study indicated that in addition to having more flexibility in choosing how they travel, Asia’s business travellers were twice as likely to extend a business trip to include weekends than European counterparts and 41% said they were willing to fly low-cost airlines for business.

For the majority the key is convenience. Hotels must be close to their work site and airlines need to offer direct flights. Low-cost airlines figure only when they deliver the most convenient flight times and direct flights.

The study showed that 53% of those polled claimed convenience was the main factor when they deviated from a company’s travel policy.

inside no 6.1Convenience superseded all other factors when planning business and was the top priority across age, culture and company types.

Predictably, winning awards figured a poor sixth on the business travellers’ priority list for airlines with the exception of China (awards placed third).

In the five country markets, a convenient flight time was the top priority followed by direct flights and comfortable seats, value for money (fourth) and “I feel valued as a customer” (fifth).

The study showed that business travellers appear to be gaining even greater autonomy particularly as companies adopt digital applications.

The implications are significant for corporate travel firms in the region. There is a noticeable shift from strict “command and control” towards controlled choices made by employees using self-booking tools.

The report warns travel companies can no longer limit engagement to the company’s travel desk, but will need to engage travellers directly. Findings showed 56% of them believed travel was a perk of their job.

Travel companies in the corporate space will need to recognise this trend and offer more individualised travel experiences, while companies will need to learn from so-called “industry disrupters.”

The report noted that the business travel is susceptible to the same disruptive forces as the leisure segment.

One disruptive force was identified as “going digital”. The report noted that the shift to digital “isn’t just a priority for travel firms, it’s what Asia’s business travellers want.”

Between online, mobile or face-to-face (F2F), the latter was the least popular options except for hotel check-in, according to the report.

Low-cost carriers are identified as another disruptive force as their flights become practical options for business travellers. They are usually not listed on the preferred airlines in a travel policy.

But low-cost airlines now represent 29% of all business travel expenditure on flights, making Asia the most penetrated region.

In contrast, LCCs represent 16% of the spend on airlines in Europe.

LCCs are wining this battle with convenient direct services not just fare costs.

India and Indonesia are the two markets that are cheerleaders for this trend.

The report showed that 63% of Indonesian business travellers were willing to use LCCs compared to just 25% in Singapore. Japan had the lowest willingness at 20%.

Sharing economy was identified as a small but growing disruptive force.

Sharing economy accommodation accounts for 0.1% of expenditure in business travel, but the report suggested it is growing, warning Asian incumbents (hotels) not to ignore these players.

Airbnb has reported a 700% growth since launching its global business one year ago.

The report showed that differences in responses to the shared economy. Indonesians and Chinese business travellers (41% and 38%) said they were reading to consider the option. Singapore at 20% and Japan at 14% were more conservative.

All of the travel managers interviewed for the report flatly ruled out using shared economy accommodation, or even taking a wait-and-see attitude. They cited a lack of security. But for longer-stays it was not entirely ruled out.