How to optimize business travel in 2024

More Canadian employees happy to do business travel, but concerned about safety amid budget cuts: report

How to optimize business travel in 2024

Canadian employees are increasingly open to travelling for business this year, according to a recent survey.

Nearly half (48 per cent) of business travelers say they are happy to be traveling in 2024, up from just 36 per cent in 2023.

The number, length, and duration of business trips have also increased, with half of Canadian business travelers saying they went on more trips in 2023 than in 2022 (48 per cent), and many noting these trips were longer in duration (40 per cent) and included more meetings per trip (43 per cent), found the survey released by World Travel Protection (WTP).

“It’s encouraging to see growth in the number of business travelers who say they enjoy the experience, especially given the challenges of recent years,” says Frank Harrison, regional security director for Americas, WTP. “The personal connections made through business travel remain absolutely vital in fostering creativity and innovation and propelling industries forward.”

“The main primary driver for them is to go out and have in-person meetings with vendors… for signing contracts,” he tells HRD. “If we're looking at procurement, we're looking at mergers and acquisitions, people want to do those in person. They don't want to do those remote.”

The cost of business travel has grown, according to a previous report.

Employers cutting business travel budgets

Despite the enthusiasm from business travelers, employers are cutting budgets for business travel, according to the WTP survey of 1,000 adults who travel for business at least once a year in the U.S. (500) and Canada (500), conducted in February.

One-third of Canadian business travelers (32 per cent) report the need to be more careful about how they spend their travel budget these days, and 20 per cent indicate their organization is much more reluctant to approve business travel.

There are two ways of framing business travel budget cuts, says Harrison, and ESG is one factor.

“[It’s about] the sustainability goals that a lot of businesses are taking on to be able to conduct business as global enterprises, where they see the opportunity to reduce travel as an opportunity to improve their sustainability scores. So a lot of businesses, from that perspective, are cutting their budgets to reduce their footprints.”

Economic costs are the other factor, says Harrison.

“We're recovering in this post-pandemic state, where businesses are trying to recover, to recoup [losses in] businesses. And financially, a lot of businesses are not in a positive spin cycle where they can actually support a lot of the pre-pandemic travel that organizations were involved in.”

Safety, wellbeing concerns with business travel

However, three-fifths of business travelers (60 per cent) say they are concerned that safety could be compromised if budget is the chief travel booking criteria.

“This isn’t just about the loss of perks for business travelers; reductions in budgets have wider safety concerns,” says Harrison. “A less expensive hotel in a high-crime area, for example, not only poses a risk to physical safety but is also likely to cause anxiety for the employees themselves. Similarly, opting for cheaper flights that arrive in the middle of the night is a logistical issue as the traveler struggles to get enough rest and a safety issue, particularly for more vulnerable travelers.”

Harrison noted that so many things have been happening in the world that can have an impact on business travel. 

“Years ago, who would have thought there'd be a war in Europe, with Ukraine and Russia?

“The outbreaks of hostilities globally with mass migration, the displacement of people, and all of the risks that come with that… In the last three years, the global landscape has changed. What was accepted [or] normal pre-2019 may just not be fit for purpose to support travelers going forward today.”

Business travel will never return to normal, according to a previous report.

How HR can improve business travel

From an HR perspective, employers can support business travelers by looking look at their travel approval and programs from “a holistic standpoint,” says Harrison.

“You've got a traveler, they're going to a destination. [Understand] the activity they're going to be performing when they get there. So if you can just take it into that trial perspective of knowing who your travelers are, why they're [traveling], what the approval process is, destinations, [you can understand] the risks associated with that destination and the activity that the traveler is going to be conducting. 

“From a holistic standpoint, that is probably the most effective way for an HR organization to understand their travel program.”

From an organizational standpoint, once you can understand those elements, then it's finding the best way to educate your travelers before they go, he says.

“How are you going to support them while they're in travel? How do you locate them? How do you then communicate with them, so if an event occurs or something [happens] that's potentially going to impact your traveler – whether it's a strike at an airport that they're going to be going through for their final destination, a major natural disaster event or there's an outbreak of If political instability of war. 

“Giving them the right education tools before they travel will help them when something occurs to make informed choices and decisions.”

It’s also important that employers can locate business travelers and that these workers have a way to ask for help if they need it, says Harrison.

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