How to end travel nightmares

SINGAPORE, 18 September 2019: Travelling, as with any business endeavour, comes with risks. Flight delays, mass protests, natural disasters and even baggage theft are unforeseen threats that could turn a seemingly normal business travel trip into a traveller’s worst nightmare.

Nearly half (47%) of business decision-makers in a joint 82-country survey by International SOS and Control Risks say that travel risks have increased over the past year, and 43% expect travel risks to increase in 2019. 

Despite growing global uncertainties, business travel spending across the world shows no sign of slowing and is set to expand to USD1.7 trillion by 2022, according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

In Southeast Asia, business travels are on the rise, driven in part by the rising economic fortunes of the region and the accelerated pace of economic integration as Southeast Asia moves ahead in its goal of forming the ASEAN Economic Community by 2025.

Business travel in ASEAN has grown by 35.2% since 2014 and up from USD27.3 million to USD37.1 million at present.

In an increasingly interconnected world where employees work beyond the confines of the office, organisations in the region have a legal and moral obligation not only to ensure the safety of their travelling employees but also develop travel policies that minimise and navigate travel risks. It is time for businesses to sit up and start thinking seriously about how they can protect the wellbeing of their employees as they embark of their business trips.

Business travel – No longer business as usual

When it comes to business travel, it can fast become a routine for many. Travel management teams have become a mainstay of larger organisations, aiding travelling employees in all facets of travel including bookings, travel arrangements, trip preparation and logistical support.

However, despite the level of support and convenience that travel management teams provide, it is equally important that business travellers themselves play an active role in ensuring they enjoy a smooth and seamless trip.

Some businesses make the mistake of assuming their employees are already aware of what to do before and during their business trips. It may then come as a surprise to them that many make independent arrangements that are beyond their travel policies – almost 70% of travel buyers say that enforcing policy compliance is among the most challenging aspects of their job.

Some may book beyond their travel policy using non-accredited accommodation, using third-party travel apps or even extending their trip for personal vacation without notice. While these may suit personal preferences and convenience, such arrangements can put business travellers at risk when crises strike and become a compounded issue.

Businesses, on the one hand, are not able to account for and ensure the safety of their travellers, while employees may find themselves stranded and unable to claim remuneration having made arrangements that fall outside of the remit of their companies’ travel policies.

This is a particularly vexing problem for small businesses, with many of them lacking a formal system of business travel education for employees.

Unlike large organisations, small businesses are constantly challenged by the lack of resources and formalised policies and processes. Quite often, HR departments in small businesses also double-hat and assist their business travellers with travel arrangements and claims, and time-strapped HR staff in small organisations may not adequately inform their employees on travel policies and processes.  

As the business travel environment becomes increasingly complex due to the growing prevalence of cyber threats, geopolitical events and extreme weather cases, it is imperative for organisations, large or small, to ensure the safety and overall trip experience for their employees who are travelling for work.

A good starting point would be ensuring that business travellers themselves are educated on existing travel policies, how their business travel is managed and processed, as well as risk assessments, local country/cultural awareness and pre-departure preparation.

Smarter and safer travel with technology

Technology has changed the way we travel, providing us with unimaginable conveniences and better experiences – luxuries that were lacking before the advent of mobile internet and smart devices. The same benefits that technology offers travellers must also be harnessed to ensure their safety.

We are now at a point where technology is able to offer real-time information, with dynamic trip itineraries that are updated by the minute.

Travel apps not only help business travellers keep track of their journey, but can now consider traffic congestions, weather conditions and real-time demand for ride-hailing services to help them get to their destination safely and in the fastest possible time.

While such technologies are already enabling a seamless experience for business travellers, allowing better trip preparation and more options for adaptability on-the-go, they have also granted businesses with unprecedented visibility into their employees’ travel schedule, allowing for the precise management of the trip itineraries – a positive step forward in ensuring the safety of their employees.  

Apps such as TripIt also allow companies to locate and contact employees when unexpected disasters occur, with active monitoring on global events and real-time alerts, and the ability for businesses to communicate directly with their employees and even send local assistance if necessary.

Making business travel personal

Business travellers today say efficiency is a top priority when using their company’s travel booking resources, with an increasing demand for personalised booking experiences. Rigid company travel policies sometimes compel employees to book with third-party travel providers, and businesses themselves must find a way to capture all these traveller data.

Digital travel management solutions and applications can help both businesses and employees capture such alternative bookings and ensure that all expenses are tracked and are compliant.

In a sense, this offers the ability for employees not only to personalise their travel but also for business to track these bookings and precisely pinpoint where their employee locations.

With travellers already accustomed to the everyday use of mobile apps, travel apps integrate third-party applications such as booking sites and ride-hailing – offering the same ease and convenience to business travellers, as if they were planning for their own trips, and with the benefit of capturing all third-party bookings on the app.

Towards safer business travels in ASEAN

With ASEAN already among the world’s fastest-growing economy, business travel is set to expand both in terms of inbound business travel and between ASEAN nations as well. Together with the region’s booming digital push with an estimated USD1 trillion added to regional GDP due to the digital economy over the next ten years, there is ample opportunity where technology can enhance, if not accelerate the quality of business travels and safety.

The willingness of ASEAN’s businesses to experiment with new technologies is a good start, and this will, in turn, drive innovation that will help meet the surge in business travels in the coming years. Even as businesses set their sights on prospects in far-off lands, the good news is that technology offers a helping hand in not only making this possible but also ensuring a seamless and safe journey for business travellers more than ever before.

( Feature by  Andy Watson, SVP and General Manager, Asia Pacific & Greater China, SAP Concur.)

About SAP Concur
SAP Concur simplifies expense, travel and invoice management for greater visibility and control.