Nick Evered, SVP and General Manager, APAC, at SAP Concur recently shared his thoughts about the trends we’ll see in the travel industry during the coming year.
The way professionals travel for business is constantly changing, and 2019 will be no exception.
With growing economic interdependence, the rise of the sharing economy and advancements in technology, the typical business travel experience is expected to change in the coming year.
For many organizations, business travel is no longer as simple as finding the best flight and hotel options, but it is also about ensuring the safety and well-being of their employees when they are traveling.
Keeping the above context in mind, below are the five key business travel trends to watch in 2019:
Focus on security will be on an all-time high
Travel, especially international travel, brings with it a certain level of risk.
From natural disasters such as the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit the Indonesian resort island of Lombok to mass shootings in the US and violent civil unrests that have been happening more frequently than ever before, these are some of the common safety threats associated with traveling that will keep risk management top of mind for business leaders.
As organizations realize the duty of care that they have for their employees, the implementation of effective tracking and communication tools that can monitor how global events and incidents are impacting their employees is no longer an option.
A comprehensive travel risk management program that goes beyond just flight and accommodation booking is something that more organizations will have to look into. These programs will need to work proactively and reactively from providing pre-travel advisories to sending real-time alerts and providing employees with the tools to communicate in times of emergency.
The rise of ‘bleisure’ travel across all generations around the world
2019 will see a greater uptake of travelers that combine business and leisure travel into one trip. Driven by the blurring lines between work and personal life along with the need to make the stress of business travel more manageable, bleisure travel will become increasingly common.
Unlike popular belief, the trend is not just relevant for millennials. While on average the percentage of bleisure travel is slightly higher for millennials, data from SAP Concur indicates the that the entire workforce, from Generation X to baby boomers, is including leisure days as part of their business trips where possible.
This trend is true not just in the US but also across all regions worldwide. From 2016 to 2017, the number of bleisure trips increased in all regions worldwide, with a 46% jump in EMEA, 45% in APAC and 19% in the Americas.
Some of the top APAC destinations for these bleisure travelers include Tokyo, Singapore and Shanghai – all of which are the top 20 travel destinations for the region which explains why travelers want to stay an extra couple of days. Accommodating bleisure in travel policies can help companies to demonstrate that they value their employees’ well-being and work-life balance.
The sharing economy is here – and it’s only going to get bigger
Like in many other consumer products and services, the sharing economy is set to make inroads into business travel.
A case in point: Airbnb.
As the lines between business and leisure travel continue blurring, more professionals are combining their business trips with weekend stays. Most of them want to experience the city that they are visiting and see things beyond just the hotel meeting rooms, making Airbnb the ideal option. Airbnb is also increasingly seen as an important supplier of accommodations for business travelers in other scenarios including sold out or expensive hotel reservations during a busy trade show or when multiple travelers need to stay together in the same property.
The same applies for ride-sharing services such as Grab. Gone are the days when hailing a cab is the first choice especially when booking a Grab is as easy as opening an app on your smartphone.
Attracted by the convenience, savings and the customized experience that sharing-economy services can provide, more business professionals are adopting the ride-sharing and accommodation services as part of their business travel experience.
Entering 2019, travel managers will need to recognize that this phenomenon is happening and that they need to start to rethink how they can start offering these sharing economy services as part of their suite of current travel management program and policy framework.
Tax compliance for business travelers is no longer an option
Today’s global workforce means that employees are constantly crossing the borders, be it international or interstate. While the length of the trip and the reasons for travel may vary from project-based to attending a week-long training or visiting customers, the complexity of today’s business environment means that there are numerous tax provisions that organizations have to navigate.
A company that wants to minimize the risks associated with tax compliance will need to take a more proactive approach.
In 2019, organizations should expect greater focus made by tax authorities and revenue bodies on the short-term business traveler population. Employers need to better track where employees are frequently travelling to and the tax laws of that country or destination. A pre-assessment process for this should also be implemented to better determine the immigration requirements and any personal or corporate tax exposure.
Automating expenses is key to managing financial success
As employees have more ways to incur travel expenses than ever, 2019 is the time for organizations to rethink about their strategy to thrive in such changing times. Many businesses are still using legacy spend management tools that fail to keep pace with today’s business traveler whose on-the-go work style demands simple, mobile and reliable solutions.
A study conducted by Forrester Consulting in 2017 indicates that spend management tools are plagued by inefficiency. One of the top challenges that APAC companies face include poor employee experience as their spend management tools are lacking the mobile functionalities that they enjoy as consumers.
There is also the challenge of complex, antiquated processes that are incompatible with the demands of fast-paced global businesses. Manual data entry for instance, continues to contribute to prolonged timelines in addition to an increase in the risk of errors.
Spend management tools must evolve to meet the needs of companies and its business travelers. Modern technology including automated spend management tools can help to streamline processes and provide better user experience for employees.
Companies who improve their travel and expenses solutions have much to gain: higher employee satisfaction, higher compliance, shorter time spent on manual processes, better budgeting insights and many more.