In the corporate world, companies continue to uphold the importance of in-person meetings for building and maintaining long-term work relationships and closing business deals. Business travel helps companies expand their business, meet new clients, scope where to market, learn new trends and analyse how others conduct business. World over, business travel is becoming a catalyst to growth within the travel and tourism sector. It significantly impacts jobs and global trade through the development of business relationships, leading to investments, sales, customers, partnerships, innovations, and exports. Business travel worldwide has a one-fourth share in the travel and tourism sector’s overall economic impact through the contribution of $1.2 trillion to global GDP. In fact, developing and emerging markets have experienced higher levels of growth in business travel at 3.7% per annum over the past few years.

India is particularly interesting to watch given the scale of its travel industry and the rapid growth of travel providers. Factors such as better global economic outlook, a solid economy, a burgeoning middle class, fast-moving innovative technologies and millennials entering the workforce is driving business travel here. Segment players are seeing huge potential as increased travel demand and consistent change in travel technology is making the segment more evolved. Global Business Travel Association reveals that India’s annual growth in business travel spend is at 11.4%—the largest rise among the top 15 business travel markets globally. India is now a $30-billion business travel market according to consultancy firm KPMG and expected to triple by 2030.

What’s also remarkable is that the nature of work in India, as also across the world, has evolved significantly over time with the onset of flexible working, better employee benefits, advanced technology and automation, strong localised policies and increased geopolitical instability. Companies are now gearing to learn and adapt their businesses to changing demands, emerging technologies, and disruptive forces to stay ahead. Some of the industry trends influencing business travel today are:

A safer world: Real and perceived dangers have become harder to predict with political instability and unrest, terrorism, disease outbreaks, and natural disasters happening around the world. In this scenario, the risk of doing business has increased, as has the need for safety and security of business travellers for the companies on whose behalf they are traveling. Companies are now reassessing their risk strategies and travel policies with 96% employers having security procedures in place to deal with major incidents. Travel management companies are providing their clients with up-to-date traveller tracking, geolocation and messaging functionality, so they can communicate with and track travellers in real time.

Enhanced technology: In this age of the ‘experience culture’, evolving consumer behaviours and innovative technologies have transformed the way people socialise, communicate, and do business. There is an influx of new, emerging tech solutions like wearable devices, mobile payments, virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence. These advances have led to brands supporting, engaging and empowering customers via sophisticated apps and mobile services. Now, the always-connected digital consumer expects a travel experience that is seamless, personal, reliable, and engaging. Companies are designing experience-first interactions around mobile technology, implementable on mobile devices. With more tech-savvy and digitally connected millennials joining the workforce, and challenging traditional working systems within established organisations, companies need to ensure their technological capabilities exceed their organisational capabilities.

Immediacy, personalisation, and control: Companies need to focus on ‘traveller centricity’—delivering efficient travel experiences to business travellers, with personalisation and simplicity in the products and services they use. As business travellers are used to controlling their travel preferences outside of work, their expectations of business trips are going beyond company policies that define and regulate employee travel entitlements, requirements and allowable expenses. Recently, computing technology giant Oracle found that consumers are ready to use new technology to engage with brands if they feel in control of their experience. Companies must be fast and responsive, while also ensuring their brands have a personal feel and understand consumers’ boundaries of control.

Employee well-being: Work-life balance is an important aspect for business travellers across all generations. There are huge employee productivity benefits and corporate financial savings that can come from strategically designed investments in employees’ well-being. Business travellers are increasingly indulging in ‘Bleisure’, extending their trips and bringing along friends and family, to combine their business and leisure time. Bleisure brings in immense potential as several apps offer various services to travellers from personalised travel arrangements within a city, to individual’s health monitoring throughout the journey, to potential security issues or disruption to travel services checks, to restaurants or attractions booking recommendations if business travellers have free time before their flight home or between meetings.

Data and analytics use: It is essential to track and analyse travel experiences of business travellers. With detailed data and analytics, companies can learn about demands and behaviours of travellers, and identify loopholes in payment systems, expenses, and related risks. Observing employee travel patterns, companies can pick the right travel-planning platforms, streamline booking processes, provide personalised services and, save time and company finances. Today, many companies are capturing only a fraction of the potential value from data and analytics. Due to organisational framework barriers, there is a lack of data-driven insights incorporation into daily business processes and, attraction of talent with functional expertise. For data to bring benefits to businesses and employees, companies should implement a seamless experience with the best systems to keep employees productive.

In light of these industry trends and rising business travel, it’s pertinent for companies to make strategic investments in automated business travel and expense management services. With automated travel and expense management in place, daily operations are streamlined, resulting in better efficiency and reduced errors. Administrators can better manage spending and ensure compliance regarding business travel policies. Due to automated systems and web- based applications, procedures become accurate and easy.

Automated expense reporting is also a key advantage—spending during business trips is monitored, expense transactions are tracked and reimbursement procedures simplified, thus speeding up time and improving employee satisfaction.

To identify opportunities for the further development and facilitation of business travel requires companies to increasingly address wider issues and changes in preferences among travellers. Addressing the global industry trends and adapting businesses accordingly also requires a nimble corporate structure and visionary leadership.

Views are personal.

The author is senior vice president and general manager, Asia Pacific Japan and Greater China, SAP Concur

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