Getting Down to Business: Corporate Travel, a $1.7-Trillion Industry by 2022


Illustration: Lalalimola

Road warriors today are more self-sufficient and resourceful than ever: They book their own travel, do their own expenses and make room for extracurricular activities around work trips. In the multipart series,Getting Down to Business,” we look at the shiny tools inside the modern business traveler’s kit. This segment highlights the trends that are changing the old ways of managing corporate travel.

Anyone who’s traveled extensively for work knows the image of the road warrior sipping a drink in business class, being shuttled from meeting to meeting in a luxury car, dining in fine restaurants and having an assistant convert the accumulated expense receipts into credit is more mirage than reality. Road warriors today are booking their own travel, squeezing in extracurricular activities around conferences and flying in economy or premium economy.

Business travel – estimated by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) to be a $1.7-trillion industry by 2022 – is becoming more intertwined with personal needs and preferences. Modern road warriors want to maximize their well-being, for example, by choosing a hotel that’s close to a gym where they have a subscription. They also want to manage their own itinerary for flexibility. Instead of using a taxi chit with the company’s preferred car service, they may use the ridesharing app already on their phone. Or in the case of a canceled flight, they could rebook a new one without having to wait for a manager in a different time zone to respond.

Business travelers are also seeking more work-life balance. In the 2018 study “Balancing Business Travel Tools and Policy for the Traveler Experience” conducted by ACTE and American Express Global Business Travel (GBT), one of the biggest players in corporate travel reporting, 36 percent of travel managers stated an increase in employee requests to add leisure to business trips (commonly referred to as “bleisure” trips). More progressive companies are even covering TSA Pre-Check certifications or the ability to bring a spouse on an insured trip, perks that contribute to an employee’s satisfaction, the survey says.

It seems like a no-brainer then to green-light employees to arrange their own business trips. But the needs for business travel booking – versus that of leisure travel – remain totally different, and being able to track travel spend is an added value for corporations. Luckily, giving employees more options doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation. “Designing a flexible travel program doesn’t mean travelers can do whatever they want or that travel policies will become so flexible that they become detrimental to the bottom line. It’s about creating policies and deploying tools that improve the traveler experience,” says Evan Konwiser, vice-president, Product Strategy and Marketing, American Express Global Business Travel. “The compliance then comes naturally, as will the savings.”

Already, 61 percent of managers report that employees have asked for better technology to help them plan their trips. The survey commissioned by GBT says companies could meet their employees in the middle by using omnichannel booking and expense reporting apps that provide insights into corporate travel spend while also setting up their road warriors to slay both their business meetings and trip planning intuitively.

Strict corporate policies that limit travel options to partnering suppliers also only affect eight to 10 percent of companies, reports a Phocuswright study, suggesting that the remaining 90 percent allow their employees to choose their preferred airline, hotel and transportation on the ground.

“Getting Down to Business” was originally published in the 9.3 June/July issue of APEX Experience magazine.