Sharing business travel insight from the experts

Panel discussion on business travel culture at Egencia Elevate in London

By Rob Greyber, President at Egencia

At Egencia, we’ve been leading the way in business travel innovation for nearly 20 years.  As we approach a new decade, we see more opportunities than ever for Egencia, and more importantly, for our clients.

In September 2019, I had the privilege of sharing the very latest research, advice, and opinions on the future of travel with a group of talented industry professionals at the Egencia Elevate Tour in London.

The Egencia Elevate Tour has been on the road across the globe since May 2019.  In these meetings, we’ve been sharing important insights from some of the industry’s most prominent voices. We’ve been talking about those insights to understand what’s changing inside companies today.  From travel culture to technology trends, we’ve been privileged to share the experiences of some of our most accomplished clients, industry peers, and colleagues — and there’s more to come.

Understanding business travel

We help businesses find solutions to their travel challenges by living and breathing those challenges ourselves, collaborating as a team by phone and video every day. But genuinely, that’s difficult, and there’s no substitute for being there in person. We prioritise travel with the understanding that it impacts business outcomes. That’s supported by our experience, and also by research, like in the report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services in association with Egencia, “Travel culture: Your competitive advantage in a global market.” That report says companies with a strong travel culture — one where its leaders and its processes support the use of corporate travel as a form of strategic investment with business value — produce better business results.

Balancing people and cost

We talked about that report in more detail at Egencia Elevate London. During the morning’s panel discussion, I was joined by Caroline Strachan, managing partner of Festive Road and Susilla Galantis, efficiency projects director at our client, L’Oréal, to discuss travel, travel culture, and its place within a business strategy in more detail.

Caroline said of the report, “this is one of the most important pieces of research in our industry” Businesses need to ask themselves what’s more important – cost or people? Those knowledgeable, talented people need to be focused on the destination, not the journey. The booking and journey should just work, so the people are ready to perform when they land, and that’s key. “One of our law-firm client CEO’s once said to me: We need to stop treating buying travel like buying toilet paper.”

People are a priority for many businesses, and cost will always factor highly. But as we covered throughout the event, many organisations are thinking about corporate travel as part of their strategy, whether to drive change, engage customers, or seek growth. Those businesses use policy, data, and feedback to measure the success of each endeavor.

Policy and diversity

At Egencia, we encourage clients to view policy as a way to enable travel. A company’s culture defines its policies — and the way its people travel — so, policy plays an important part in the story of travel culture. The way a company’s people travel will have a significant impact on the ROI overall. But what does that mean for diversity, flexibility? Should policy be one size fits all?

“For fairness, it should be one size fits all, but we have a flexible policy to allow for different scenarios,” explained Susilla. And Caroline agreed, “you need to work with HR, ask the right questions, and use that to overlay your policy and culture.”

A good culture match

What exactly does a strong travel culture look like then?

“Often, we describe [culture] as ‘how things work when no one’s watching.’ It’s what’s ingrained in people to make decisions,” said Caroline.

Meanwhile, Susilla explained how they found their culture fit at L’Oreal, “we looked for a travel management company that was cost-neutral, but budget wasn’t the priority. We wanted to know about feedback first, and then online adoption. Pre Egencia, online adoption was 59%, compared to 95% now, after only two months.”

“When it comes to the culture match, if it’s right, we often find the commercials become less important. We have found it’s more expensive to partner with a TMC that doesn’t work for your business,” Caroline explained.

Machine learning for travel culture?

Later in the morning, Egencia CTO, Alex Kaluzny, was on hand to deliver a presentation on what artificial intelligence (AI) means for business travel. Alex’s talk was fascinating and inspired a flurry of questions.

An attendee asked if machine learning (ML) could be applied to travel culture. Alex explained that it could “when we look at policy caps, for example. We can help set these based on a client’s current data and algorithms rather than setting a flat cap or embedding a ton of irrelevant rules.”

Undoubtedly, ML and AI can have a huge, positive impact on a company’s travel programme, and they should be used to reinforce a culture with evidence and insight. Alex covered this in much more detail, with each one of us leaving the event connecting the dots between Netflix and business travel – and no, we don’t mean inflight entertainment.

That’s a wrap

I couldn’t stay for the networking lunch — or the afternoon talk on product updates and the NDC — I had my lunch on an airplane, heading home (#biztravel).

And I can’t capture all the energy, questions, and discussion in just one blog post.

Instead, let me invite you to attend an Egencia Elevate event for yourself. You may be surprised at how much is going on, and how much we all have to explore in the years ahead.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.