Amidst a challenging aviation security environment and the continued threat of terrorism globally—and as new proposed policies and regulations to address these concerns start to take shape—business travellers and travel managers are growing increasingly worried about travel safety, according to a new global survey of corporate travel buyers from the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE), underwritten by American Express Global Business Travel (GBT).
The study, Checking In: Servicing the Multifaceted Modern Business Traveller, conducted as a timely, focused follow-up to the 2016 ACTE and GBT Meet the Modern Business Traveller research, finds that more than half (56 per cent) of corporate buyers have seen an uptick in the number of business travellers reporting heightened personal safety concerns over the past three months, and 25 per cent say they saw increased requests for security training over the past six months. In addition, 54 per cent say travellers have expressed growing worry about travelling to the United States as changes to visa requirements and immigration policies loom.
“The pace of change—and the amount of anxiety—in the corporate travel industry has accelerated tremendously over the past three to six months, and it will be critical for companies to stay ahead of the curve if their employees are to remain productive and happy on the road,” says Greeley Koch, executive director of ACTE. “Luckily, travel technologies are evolving just as fast—if not faster—and offering executives and planners new tools to address happiness, safety and security.”
In response to these challenges, a majority (87 per cent) of buyers report plans to improve safety training, with one third having introduced these changes already, 14 per cent planning to roll out new programs over the next one to two years, and 40 per cent discussing changes internally.
“The modern business traveller is more vocal than ever. They are actively advocating for their own experience, with a clear focus on arming themselves with safety and security information while they are travelling for business,” says Evan Konwiser, vice president of Digital Traveller with GBT. “Checking in with the modern business traveller six months later, we are seeing that the behaviors revealed in the 2016 research are becoming trends that the industry must consider when evaluating their existing policies and programs.”
Data security becoming a leading priority
Connectivity remains a requirement of corporate travel, with new technologies offering travellers multiple avenues to communicate with colleagues globally—and buyers are looking to expand these options. Eighty-nine per cent say they have introduced, will introduce or are currently discussing new booking apps, while 88 per cent and 82 per cent are taking a similar approach with trip information and T&E management apps, respectively.
But this increasingly networked environment is also introducing vulnerabilities for bad actors to exploit. Nearly one-third (31 per cent) of buyers say they’ve seen traveller enquiries about data security increase over the past three months. Few companies, however, seem to have coherent policies in place to address these concerns. Fifty-eight per cent say employees are permitted to use their personal devices for business communication, 64 per cent say travellers may access public WiFi with their business devices, and 47 per cent allow the use of non-purged laptops and devices while on the road.
Non-traditional travel options continue to grow in popularity
Traveller preferences for non-traditional ground transport continue to grow: Fifty-three per cent of buyers report an increase over the past six months. In addition, the use of ride shares has increased 44 per cent, and traditional car hires and/or premium black cars are down 18 per cent and 32 per cent, respectively. Traveller adoption of sharing economy accommodations, such as Airbnb, seems to be slowing, however. Just 16 per cent of buyers say they saw an increase in usage over the past six months.
Work-life balance tops travellers’ wish lists
Unsurprisingly, work-life balance and mixing leisure with business remain priorities for business travellers. Thirty-one per cent of buyers report increased work-life balance concerns among travellers over the last six months, while 43 per cent say more travellers are asking to add leisure to corporate booking. One-fifth also say travellers have expressed interest in having more flexibility to explore their destinations.
Maintaining a traveller-centric approach despite uncertainty
The first quarter of 2017 was marked by upheaval as new rules and regulations introduced significant uncertainty into the travel planning process. Key to navigating these challenges, however, is prioritizing the traveller and closely monitoring for new developments and traveller requirements.
“Business travel can be stressful, and it is no surprise that work-life balance remains a critical priority as travellers face an increasingly complex and frustrating global travel environment,” says Konwiser. “How businesses manage this and address the needs of their employees on the road has become a key factor in motivating and retaining talented personnel.”
Adds Koch, “More than anything else, business travellers want certainty. They want to arrive to their destination on time, have a reliable in-flight experience, have comfortable accommodations, and perhaps most importantly, have the flexibility to adapt to conditions on the ground. The task for buyers will be to leverage the right tools and resources to meet these demands and alleviate the stresses of travel without breaking the bank.”