If you followed predictions of when business travel will return to 2019 volumes or even embark on a growth path, you took a seat next to us on a rollercoaster ride. From optimistic voices at the beginning of the year that we will be back to normal at the end of 2022 to GBTA recently pushing full recovery into 2026 instead of 2024 as previously forecasted.

It seems it is all down to whom you ask. Based on their revenues, some airlines and hotel chains paint a more optimistic picture than business travel associations, travel management companies, and travel managers.

With the ongoing confusion, we all wonder if the numbers presented hint at a permanent change in business goals and traveler behavior or if the current trends are short-lived reactions to an unstable market and travel conditions. Indeed, disruptions seem to have been everywhere in 2022: spikes in different COVID variants, chaos at airports that was followed suit by flight cancellations, a war in Europe, and almost global inflation.

The correct answer to when we return to “normal” in business travel might be “only time will tell,” but that does not help travel managers and enterprises that want to make informed decisions here and now to forge a better travel program.

Back to basics: What is business travel all about

With so many moving parts, we are all well advised to reflect on the unchanged, most basic function of business travel: to support business goals and enable business success. Whether these trips are to close sales, meet with existing customers, do implementations at the customers’ sites, bring your teams together, or enable unique learning and personal growth opportunities for your employees, each trip must add value to the business.

Whatever others may say differently, we firmly believe that if a trip’s business case is clear, every company will be ready to invest in it. Employees realizing the importance and business impact of the trip will be prepared to travel.

Benchmarking is great, but not everything

While benchmarking yourself against travel industry trends and your close competitors holds interesting insights, it keeps you in a reactive mode. Seeing what others are doing will not tell you how it worked out for them, and you will also have no guarantee that the same will work for your company. Benchmarking will tell you only a little about the why behind trends.

The answers come from within

Detecting your trends and analyzing your data is more relevant than ever and enables success for your company in a more viable way. After all, this is what travel managers, together with their TMCs, are asked to do – forging a travel program customized to a company’s specific business needs and preferences.

Checking one’s own data can look for trends like:

Is the one-day trip dead at your company?
If trips are more extended, how does it reflect on your flight and hotel shares in the budget?
Are trips longer because of more effective planning which combines business activities or because of “bleisure” trips?
Have destinations changed, and will the new destinations be as important in a year as they are now?

For other answers, close cooperation across business units and departments and a tight alignment with business goals and your management will be required. Are expansions planned, has a new market opened, have processes or employee numbers permanently changed? In addition, give your road travelers a voice as well. Listen to them to find out why some are less ready to travel or want to change how they travel.

Your analyses might show you a familiar picture or detect unforeseen changes. Whatever the data shows, it will always take a person with intimate knowledge about your company to discover the why behind those changes or consistencies.

Regardless of trends, keeping costs low always makes sense

More than ever, business travel is seen through the lens of return on investment.  Keeping the cost of trips low to enable your budget to go further or to be less exposed to spiking prices always makes sense. A lot of time and negotiations go into getting the best deals for your travelers. But in times of dynamic pricing and price volatility, negotiated fares and rates don’t always get you the best pricing.

Here travel spend optimization comes into play: automated, innovative price assurance across airfares and hotel prices can make business travel bring in a higher ROI.

Please schedule a demo with us if you want to learn more about FairFly’s Travel Spend Optimization platform.

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