Jo Sully, vice president and regional general manager, Asia Pacific, American Express Global Business Travel, addresses how travel and work patterns are changing, and what corporate travel and meetings managers can take away from the pandemic
As countries announce either fully or partially opening their international borders, travel and meetings managers across Asia-Pacific are springing into action to take their organisations’ international travel programmes off the backburner. It’s a pattern we can expect to repeat as countries in our region progressively reduce restrictions on international travellers.
What has become quickly apparent is that both clients’ and employees’ expectations of travel and meetings programmes are higher than ever before.
As we emerge from the pandemic, traditional patterns of work and travel have changed, challenging the ‘normal’ way people do business. A new era has begun, and it is one where travel and meeting in person is more important than ever before. This gives rise to a unique opportunity for travel and meetings managers: one that will redefine their role and increase their value.
We are operating in an era where organisations, employees and their clients want to renegotiate how they interact. As the lines between professional and personal lives continue to blur, travel and mobility are becoming more central to “traditional” HR issues of employee experience, wellbeing, company culture and retention.
This is an era of increased expectations in how organisations and people engage. Our recent Amex GBT meetings and events forecast highlighted how meetings and events managers are expecting more meetings of every type than in previous years. What is apparent is that people want these meetings on their own terms.
For example, internal meetings in Asia-Pacific are expected to have the biggest jump in growth for hybrid/virtual formats, compared to meetings for clients and others.
For those employees who have spent up to two years working from home, workplace flexibility is a two-way street, a convenience that should work for both parties. This creates an opportunity for travel and meetings managers to not only play a part in a cultural shift, but to take a lead role in transforming a new way of working in their organisation.
The evidence supporting this is the hard data and first-hand knowledge that travel and meetings managers have gathered from the feedback of employees and clients. This insight ideally places travel and meetings functional teams in a prime position to create engaging strategies, and offer sound counsel on employee mobility and interaction policies.
With higher performance expectations on organisations, travel and meetings programs present a plethora of opportunities to showcase their genuine ESG commitment, the progress they are making, and the impact they are having in these areas.
And yet, in many organisations, travel and meetings managers are an untapped treasure chest of talent that can implement and deliver on an effective ESG strategy. From building supplier relationships with diverse companies to greener choices on flights, ground transport and venues: there are large and small, short- and long-term gains to be made through travel and meetings programmes.
Underpinning all of this is traveller confidence. Crucially, travel and meetings managers can put all the information that their clients need at their fingertips, engaging them with timely and targeted messaging no matter where they are and what time of day or night it is. Ours will continue to be a swiftly changing world and travel and meeting managers know that, at their effective best, communications are two-way: travellers need to be empowered to ask questions, seek help, get advice and give feedback on their experiences, which they can trust will be listened to and acted upon.
My advice for today’s travel and meetings managers is simple. If they’re not already actively consulting on policies around employee mobility, engagement sustainability, and diversity and inclusion, then they need to start now. These are significant topics that affect all of their stakeholders individually and organisationally, travel and meetings managers have an important part to play in driving these forward.
Jo Sully is the vice president & regional general manager, Asia Pacific at American Express Global Business Travel, a role she has held since March 2020. Sully is responsible for developing the strategy in Australia, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, our Joint Ventures in China and Japan.