But Cost Cutting Is Inevitable And Companies MUST Ensure New Policies Are Communicated Clearly and Honestly To Employees

In spite of the global economic slowdown, business travel seems to be holding up in Europe, and will do so for at least the next 12 months. That’s the overriding message from the results of a survey of 600 European business travellers, commissioned by the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) in association with Vanson Bourne.

Travel Vital to Business Success

Published following Crossroads Paris — a unique pan-European business travel conference, co-hosted by 12 business travel organizations from around the world and the Paragon Partnership alliance of business travel associations held on 14th-15th May — the research shows that 52% of travellers expect to continue with their current level of business travel over the next 12 months, while 22% believe it will actually increase. 26% expect it to decrease.

However, the commitment by companies to safeguard what is viewed by many as a vital business function (50% of those who said they expect to travel less believe this will have a negative impact on their business) is dependent on travellers adhering to cost cutting measures when they travel. According to Kevin Maguire, President and CEO of the NBTA, companies must effectively communicate business travel goals to employees.

Says Maguire: “While the majority of business travellers understand the need to be prudent around costs, the most important issue for them when booking travel is convenience. That’s why it is so vital that travel managers work with their communications colleagues to inform employees how travel changes are designed to meet both goals — cutting costs while offering convenience.”

62% of travellers cited convenience as the most important factor when booking travel, compared to 25% who said cost. Over a third of respondents (36%) indicated their companies have mandated cheaper travel over the last six months. Of these, 35% have moved to cheaper airlines and tickets, 29% have mandated a cheaper class of travel and 36% have moved to cheaper accommodation options.

“Getting employees to adhere to corporate travel policies can lead to significant cost savings,” adds Maguire. “But stricter policies are most effective as part of a broader approach to maximizing travel value. It’s a balancing act to find the right mix of preferred supplier arrangements, travel polices, employee communications, and enforcement.”

From the survey it’s clear that while meeting alternatives have their place, there’s no substitute for getting in front of customers, colleagues, partners and prospects. Almost 20% of travellers have never used conference call services, while of those that have, 50% use them to complement face to face meetings rather than replace. The stats around video conferences are similar with 35% having never used them, and 41% again using them to complement the flesh press. Webinars and Virtual meetings (such as those held in Second Life) also have low levels of awareness and usage.

Green Policies Changing Travel Behaviours

The survey also threw up some interesting findings around European business travellers’ attitudes towards green travel and alternatives to flights.

46% of respondents said that their company’s environmental policies had some direct impact on their business travel. Of that group, the number one change of behaviour (44%) was a switch to public transport options. 33% also said that they were sharing more journeys with colleagues.

Riding the Rails

When asked about rail as an alternative to air travel, price was the number one consideration overall with 54% of respondents flagging it as a priority. Time was also a major consideration, with 51% of overall respondents saying that rail is important for journeys under 4 hours. 30% value consistent communications such as mobile signal and email.

An interesting regional difference was apparent in the responses of UK business travelers, who said convenience of location was the main rail-versus-air decision-making factor over price, which suggests that UK business travellers are concerned about relying on rail infrastructure for business use due to the country’s patchy rail network. That difference supports the importance of the continued investment being poured into Britain’s railways to bring them up to the standard of their European neighbours.

Concludes Maguire: “Overall the findings are encouraging. The value of personal interaction is clearly understood and supported by European business travellers, but there’s also a need to be watchful especially around balancing the needs of travelling employees against the need to cut costs. It’s clear from the research that travel managers must understand how their colleagues’ travelling priorities differ. I’m sure that the output from the keynote sessions, workshops and general networking at Crossroads Paris last week will also help educate and inform all parties so that business travel can continue to play such a vital role during tough economic times and, vitally, be a front-line aid to economic recovery.”

For more information, visit www.nbta.org