Sunday 19 January 2020

Brexit a surprise non-issue for UK travel managers

BUSINESS TRAVEL

Just over two thirds of travel managers believe that their travel spend will stay the same next year
Just over two thirds of travel managers believe that their travel spend will stay the same next year

Mark Evans

YOU might think that trading and voyaging outside post-Brexit Britain could be a worry for our fellow travellers across the water - but not so. 'Tis the season of crystal ball gazing in the corporate travel world and, as ever, it's a combination of wish lists and mixed messages among those surveyed about the year ahead. And there are some surprising results.

Asked about the opportunities and challenges ahead in 2020, new regulations and red tape in a post-EU world ranked low on the priorities of UK travel managers. Just over two thirds of them believe their travel spend will stay the same next year and a quarter reckon it'll increase.

Whether that's from having to chase new markets, or simple head-in-the-sand outlooks, only time will tell. Indeed, only 8pc predict a drop in spend, so it's business as usual in Britain, according to the annual survey of travel managers by the UK's Institute of Travel Management, in conjunction with FCM Travel Solutions.

Now for those mixed messages: the need to adopt new technology (that's been the message for years now, without much cut-through) and the green wave, with businesses keen to avoid Scandinavian-style 'flight shame' and a bad rep.

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While a small majority of business travellers (54pc) surveyed elsewhere by travel tech giant Travelport said they would opt for more eco-friendly ways of getting around, only 17pc of travel managers said they would opt for airlines using biofuel if the fare was more expensive.

So, despite the hot air, it appears that the piper-payer is still calling the tune.

The biggest challenge for bosses though? Implementing technology and budget control, they responded in this week's poll.

Indeed, what surveys tend to throw up, year after year, is the message that business travel needs to become more like the leisure sector, with hotels and flights bookable on mobile platforms, and the sharing economy providers - Uber, Airbnb, etc - being added into the mix.

The risk is that if travellers are constrained by rigid travel policies, they'll organise portions of trips, or entire trips, on the side themselves, which can play havoc with budget control and expenses.

As Travelport's head of digital, Julie O'Sullivan, put it: "Maintaining an effective travel programme to reduce travellers from using non-approved channels is difficult, and next-generation agency solutions need to commit to fixing this."

So why are business travellers going outside the usual channels?

Travelport cites "unfriendly user interfaces and the unnecessary hoop-jumping required to complete a booking", which it says lead to 68pc of travellers admitting they use unapproved channels to book trips.

And it's a situation that will become worse with the advent of millennial and Gen-Z workers, with Travelport conceding that "a good mobile experience has become a central element" for the corporate traveller.

Without simplicity, you're dead in the water. So it's the same old message about embracing tech. But providers need to act on the message, or lose out.

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