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For anyone who has ever taken a business trip, the hassle of booking travel and hotels is all too familiar. And from the company perspective, it’s rarely much better. As many companies still operate using outdated policies, the process not only ends up being complex and expensive, but it often yields low compliance. Research shows that roughly 80% of companies have some sort of written or formalized travel policy, yet 45% of their employees think more could be done. So what are the hangups of these unsuccessful policies? We asked expert Sebastien Marchon, CEO Sodexo Travel and Expense, to help us identify three major issues.
The world is an increasingly connected place, so why should business travel be any different? Today’s employees have new habits and behaviors and successful travel policies should take these into account. For many employees, particularly millennials, the line between work and life has faded away. What used to be business-related or leisure-related travel has merged to become known as “bleisure” travel. For example, employees like to tack on a weekend getaway to explore a city or country following a weekday conference. One study also showed that two out of five millennials would like to bring a spouse or family member along when traveling for business. As companies draw up their travel policies, flexibility to allow these perks is essential.
The idea of flexibility also extends to free players entering the market, such as AirBnb and Uber. “Travel policies tend to be very rigid,” says Sebastien Marchon. “But companies need to adapt by mixing existing corporate solutions with everyday private solutions with which their employees are already accustomed.”
Whether a travel policy is successful or not relies heavily on the way companies communicate with their employees. “Traditional policies tried to cover as many topics as possible and ended up being long, tedious documents that no one took the time to read,” says Marchon. “Communication needs to summarize the most important points in one page or less. In parallel, electronic tools can cover the travel policy in detail.”
Companies can also steer the conversation away from “bottom line” thinking by eliminating some of the rules. “People don’t like rules,” says Marchon. “Instead of announcing that employees must travel in economy class or stay in 3-star hotels, companies can simply set-up internal tools to display only pre-approved options and suppliers. This is a more subtle way of controlling costs and ensuring compliance — and in the end it is much more efficient and well perceived,” he adds.
While cost control is, of course, a key criteria, companies need to communicate on the numerous additional policy benefits. Studies show that nearly all employees, 96.6%, believe that travel policies are in place for the sole purpose of controlling cost and another 79% believe that companies prioritize saving time and money over employee well-being. Employers can boost compliance by emphasizing benefits such as improved safety, for example “We unfortunately live in riskier times” says Marchon. “In the case of a major incident, companies that know where their employees are lodged can quickly verify the safety and well-being of all traveling employees. In addition, pre-approved choices also allow companies to verify that accommodations are located in a secure part of town and that the hotels meet a certain level of safety requirements.”
It’s one thing to have a great policy in place; it is completely another thing to have a solution that is actually used by travelers. “Many Travel & Expense solutions are not user-friendly, they are not mobile native, they don’t display photos and location information that we have come to expect as consumers. In short, these tools ask too much of employees.” As a result, when booking accommodations for example, only 50% of employees go through the approved channels. As a result, when booking accommodations, only 50% of employees go through the approved channels. On the other hand, if tools are enticing, user-friendly and actually simplify the common hassles of travel, companies will see a boost in usage and compliance — saving money and offering employees a better overall experience.
“At Sodexo, we’re launching a new end-to-end solution,” says Marchon. The mobile-friendly platform covers the full value chain and streamlines the user experience from the moment they begin planning their trip — from booking travel, renting cars and opening access to more than 800,000 hotel accommodations around the world. The system even expedites the tedious process of expense reports. “When an employee takes a cab, they just need to snap a photo of the receipt and the platform handles the rest.”
“In short, companies shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a modern and seamless user experience. Travel is painful and tiring. The whole point of a travel policy is to facilitate the daily live of employees by providing relevant content and easy to use solutions. If we succeed in doing so, we will not only boost compliance but also improve the quality of life of our travelers, hence their engagement and performance.
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