Are business trips still relevant?

Technology improvement, fading lustre of business travel and uncertainties in the global environment are causing some travel managers to expect a decline in the number of trips.

Technology innovation is disrupting business operations, and as such, corporate travel is changing, as industry members debate the role and importance of business trips and the impact on corporate travel policy.

At a recent ACTE Singapore Education Forum, panellist Bhawna Gandhi, head of human resources, Danone – who is also responsible for corporate travel – commented that “people today do not want to travel for work” and jobs that require travel do not have the same pull as before.

In his view, Frédéric Dumoulin, senior regional director of sales – South-east Asia & Pacific, HRS, said business executives who were travelling the world, prior to the 2000s, were seen as successful people. “But now with the democratisation of aviation, taking a plane is not as exclusive as before. Status is now linked with the travel class, category of hotels where you can stay, etc,” he said.

Another damper on work trips is the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) environment, with threats such as terrorism, natural disasters and geopolitics.

According to Jaime Wong, security manager, Asia Pacific International SOS, organisations are putting more focus on ensuring that they have tools and mechanisms in place to track employee travel, communicate with their employees during an escalated situation, and provide assistance to their employees wherever and whenever needed.

Gandhi believes that “well thought through travel policies” are key to hiring and retaining the best talent.

She elaborated: “The goal has changed and many of us have not realised that our policies are still supporting previous goals and we have to review holistically how our policies will deliver our employee value proposition.”

One corporate travel manger in the pharmaceutical sector agreed with Gandhi, noting that she and her colleagues travel only when “absolutely necessary”.

“Technology is helping us to get things done, and trips are also shorter,” she said.

Travel managers recognise that an employee’s preference for work trips is entirely personal. At software company, Autodesk, its diverse global traveller demographic is not against business travel even though “technology allows us to work virtually from anywhere to exchange ideas”, according to Adriana Nainggolan, travel programme manager, Asia-Pacific.

Kelvin Li, regional procurement and travel lead, Asia-Pacific, AECOM, shared that some of his colleagues prefer day trips as much as possible, “even if it means a Hong Kong-Shanghai same-day return trip of four hours total flight time, not including waiting time at airport and travel to/from airport”.

A survey of more than 1,100 business executives in several Asia-Pacific countries – conducted by CWT and recruitment specialist Ambition last year – showed 78 per cent of respondents preferred meeting in-person instead of using technology-enabled communications such as video conferencing.

Those polled said face-to-face meetings helped build stronger, more meaningful relationships, and read a person’s body language and facial expressions. It was also easier to be more persuasive.

Meanwhile, those who said they preferred virtual meetings pointed to time and costs as the main reasons.

Paul Endacott, regional managing director, Asia, Ambition, commented: “In the face of a growing global talent shortage, attracting and retaining the right people can be challenging, especially if candidates are receiving multiple offers.

“Fast-growing Asia-headquartered companies which are expanding internationally and trying to compete with established global players are acutely aware of this.

“Well-designed corporate travel policies can be a selling point and help these companies differentiate themselves to potential employees, particularly in industries which involve a lot of travel,” Endacott noted.

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