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If travel culture is good for business, why is it so rare?

Posted: 20 August 2019

According to a report from the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services in association with Egencia, many organizations face a challenging disconnect when it comes to their business travel culture. Fifty-eight percent of business leaders say a strong travel culture is very important to their organization's business performance. However, only 31 percent say their company has such a culture. Why is that? And how can that 31 percent of companies build a strong travel culture?  

The effect of a strong travel culture 

Using data sourced from a survey of 587 executives across the globe, the Travel culture: Your competitive advantage in a global market report explores the meaning of travel culture and its impact on business performance. 

The report reveals some big differences in performance between companies that do and don't have strong travel cultures. Companies with a strong travel culture have twice the rate of improvement than companies with a weak travel culture in:  

  • Customer loyalty and retention 
  • Market share 
  • Employee satisfaction 

It’s also significant that companies with a strong travel appear to be more profitable.  

Defining a strong travel culture 

According to the report, a strong travel culture involves having company leaders and processes that support the use of corporate travel as a type of strategic investment. A business with a strong travel culture sees travel in terms of business value rather than viewing it only as an expense.  

The key elements of a strong travel culture include: 

  • Providing appropriate funding for business travel.  
  • Having executive buy-in and support for travel. 
  • Providing easy-to-use business travel tools and related technology. 
  • Adopting flexible travel policies. 
  • Enabling people to travel at any time, to any destination, if they can show a compelling business reason. 

The business benefits of a strong travel culture in practice 

Strong travel cultures can help improve internal and external business practices and performance.  

Sixty-seven percent of business leaders found that increased collaboration was an internal benefit of a strong travel culture. Fifty-five percent felt that a strong travel culture led to better management of geographically dispersed teams. And 40 percent felt it helped unify business culture around the globe.  

Why then do so few companies create a strong travel culture, even if they understand its overall benefits? There's no easy answer, but the report's findings do offer some meaningful insights. For example, 72 percent of companies with strong travel cultures provide appropriate funding for corporate travel. And of those companies without a strong travel culture, it was found that only 30 percent provided appropriate travel funding. Some companies are just not investing in travel, even though they consider it essential for their businesses. 

Travel culture and policy 

There are other big differences between companies that have strong travel cultures and those that don’t. Sixty-one percent of companies with a strong travel culture have executive buy-in and support for business travel while only 27 percent of companies without a strong travel culture have executive buy-in.  

Fifty-seven percent of companies with a strong travel culture have a flexible travel policy. Policies that give employees the freedom to travel any distance, at any time, to support the business. But only 26 percent of companies without a strong travel culture have this kind of policy. 

Travel culture vs. cost-cutting culture 

The report investigated whether companies are "treating travel as a strategic investment that adds business value rather than a cost to be minimized." And 62 percent of companies with strong travel cultures said yes. In contrast, only 19 percent of all other companies treat travel as a strategic investment and see it as a cost to be minimized. This disparity suggests an internal cultural conflict. The positive benefits of a strong travel culture make a compelling case for investment in travel. But the culture of cost-cutting is extremely powerful – even dominant in many organizations — and travel is often a candidate for cuts, even if stakeholders see the value in making the investment. 

The report reveals that the idea of travel as a cost to be minimized is shortsighted. Fifty-one percent of companies with strong travel cultures actually maintained control over expenses or reduced costs. 

"While you can't spend your way to success, you can't cost-cut your way to it, either. Finding the right balance is key, and organizations need to look for the optimal way to spend their travel dollars for an optimal return," Will Tate, partner at corporate travel consultancy Goldspring Consulting, said.  

Lack of travel management platform 

A travel management platform helps you book travel and oversee your company’s travel program. A good platform will also provide travel managers with the opportunity to weave in their company’s travel policies and offer comprehensive reporting. Properly managed, a travel management platform can play an important part in bringing a strong travel culture to life.  

A company that lacks such a platform may understand the value of travel but will have difficulty implementing a strong travel culture. After all, it takes systems and data to support a travel culture that drives business success. As the report shows, 61 percent of companies with strong travel cultures provide a suite of corporate travel tools and technologies that are easy to use. 

It's possible to conclude that even if these companies wanted to adopt a strong travel culture, they lack the technology to get there. For a start, integrating all travel and expense apps and data is a big deal. Fifty percent of companies with strong travel cultures integrate in this way, versus 29 percent of all other companies which didn’t. Connecting travel and expense apps and data gives travel managers rapid visibility into the business impact of their corporate travel program. This, in turn, should drive greater awareness of where and how travel creates value for the business.  


How can a company that sees the value of having a strong travel culture, move in that direction? If a company can see the value of a strong travel culture, they can easily take steps towards its fulfillment. 

Building a strong travel culture first requires a look at the policy. Is it flexible enough to allow your travelers to reach the people they need to when they need to? There's a proven positive impact of meeting in-person with clients and colleagues, and that idea needs support. Secondly, there's technology. Travel managers — and travelers — need the right tools at their fingertips to manage, report back, and continuously improve on the travel program.  

Building a strong travel culture is an achievable goal but getting there requires some focus and investment. Read the report to discover the potential of corporate travel for your business.   

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