> Companies still realise ‘tangible business value’ from trips to meet with clients or prospects

Companies still realise ‘tangible business value’ from trips to meet with clients or prospects

There remain many unanswered questions on the format of business travel in the post-pandemic world. There are certainly developing trends, but you could argue that these would have developed regardless of the health crisis.

While it may have changed, what is certain though is that business travel remains are relevant as it was before COVID-19 arrived and new research from American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT) highlights the continued importance in businesses travelling and people meeting face-to-face.

Business travel gives companies ‘a valuable return in today’s hybrid world’

In a new report, ‘Investing in Travel to Drive Business Growth: A Strategy for Thriving in Disruption’, Amex GBT reveals business travel gives companies “a valuable return in today’s hybrid world,” with most respondents to a survey from Harvard Business Review reporting that meeting in person enables dealmaking, company culture and innovation. The respondents also recognised attributes that make corporate travel programmes effective, while also identifying gaps and areas to improve.

The report is based on a survey by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services of 425 members of the Harvard Business Review audience in May-2023. Respondents qualified to complete the survey if they were familiar with their organisation’s business travel (92% of survey respondents were in management levels and above, while 65% worked for companies that have 1,000 – 10,000+ employees.

Tangible business value and positive relationships built from business travel

The report shows that more than four in five (84%) respondents agreed their organisations realise tangible business value from trips to meet with clients or prospects in person.

The majority of respondents also said face-to-face meetings create stronger relationships with customers and are the best meeting method to make sales and initiate discussions with M&A targets.

A similar level of respondents (88%) said in-person interactions are critical for ensuring positive, long-term relationships between coworkers.

Business travel can therefore be defined as a key lever for bringing people together – especially now as teams are more dispersed with organisations embracing hybrid and remote working (just 7% of respondents said their workplace model is completely office based today).

More than four in five respondents (81%) also agreed that in-person interactions foster greater levels of innovation. Seven in 10 said in-person meetings were the best way to facilitate brainstorming.

Business travel is more important now than it was pre-pandemic

According to Colleen Kearney, Global Corporate Travel Leader at US-headquartered aerospace and defense company RTX, business travel “is more important now than it was pre-pandemic”. “The results from returning to business travel have been clear. We’re finally getting together with no limitations. You’re just more invested and able to create more opportunities and come up with new ideas because you’ve created personal connections,” she said.

Significant gaps between business travel ideals and reality

Amex GBT says decision-makers clearly understand the hallmarks of effectively managed business travel, including the need for adequate funding, strategic alignment, and support from executive leadership.

However, in practice, the survey found significant gaps between the importance of these ideals and the reality, as illustrated in the table below.

There remain significant gaps between business travel ideals and reality

The ideal: percent citing attribute as “very important” for a travel program to support the organizationThe reality: percent citing their travel program has this to a “great extent”The gap
Adequately funded78%33%45 pts
Aligned with overall business strategy80%44%36 pts
Supported by executive leadership82%49%33 pts

Source: Investing in Travel to Drive Business Growth: A Strategy for Thriving in Disruption

Travel programmes adequate with room to improve

It stands to reason that travel is now more necessary in order to meet customers, partners, or fellow team members in person. Six in 10 respondents to the survey said their organisation encourages and supports employees’ travel as needed for business, while around one-third say their organisation allows travel but isn’t especially encouraging or supportive of it.

For the most part, respondents described travel programmes as adequate; just under one-half (47%) of respondents said theirs is moderately effective, 13% said it’s a little effective, and 4% said it’s not at all effective.

But these programmes could be better.

Just over a third (36%) of respondents said their organisation’s approach to business travel was very effective in supporting how the organisation works today.

Survey findings show strong awareness of business travel’s critical role

Still, the survey findings show strong awareness of business travel’s critical role in connecting people, driving growth and supporting success.

“Travel is also inherently more complex in a landscape of disruption, making the value of managed business travel more evident than ever,” says Amex GBT President Andrew Crawley.

“While many companies understand business travel is a strategic investment, it is also clear they see scope for enhancing the value and effectiveness of their travel programmes,” he adds.

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