Traveller wellbeing is suddenly very on-trend, but how can travel managers wake up employers to do something about it?
Scrolling through the conference programme for the recent GBTA Convention in San Diego, I burst out laughing when I saw sessions entitled: “Personal wellness: the realities of creating your best balance in life and work” and “Restore yourself: the antidote for professional exhaustion”.
What tickled me was that both seminars were scheduled for a Sunday afternoon, some hours before the convention officially kicked off with a 7pm welcome reception. Anyone wishing to improve their work/life balance and avoid professional exhaustion was obliged to sacrifice a big chunk of their weekend to achieve such enlightenment.
It should be pointed out, lest anyone hasn’t noticed, that Americans see many things differently, and that includes the work ethic. You couldn’t imagine thousands of French travel professionals flocking to an industry conference in August.
GBTA clustered no fewer than six sessions around the theme of employee wellbeing that Sunday afternoon. Irony of the scheduling aside, it underlined that managing traveller stress has emerged as a hot topic in 2018.
Several service providers have published research on the issue. Typically, they attempt to evaluate how business travel distresses employees and, in some cases, aim to quantify the subsequent cost of traveller ill-health to the business.
Quite why traveller wellbeing is suddenly fashionable is unclear to me. Whatever the reason, I welcome this development. It’s odd that duty-of-care towards travellers frequently stops at safety and security but fails to extend to health – especially mental and emotional health.
Yet I’m willing to bet far more business travellers burn out from too much time on the road than fall victim to terror atrocities, criminal activity, accidents, acts of God or disease.
But I use the words “I’m willing to bet” advisedly because, of course, this is the nub of the problem. Travel-related stress is very hard to define, and when something is invisible it is difficult to take corrective action. Or, if I were more cynical, I might say that if it can’t be proved business travel harms employee health, then employers don’t care because they can’t be held liable.
The same lack of motivation to tackle traveller stress impacts the role of the travel manager. Travel managers are paid to keep costs down, not keep travellers healthy. But travel sourcing is becoming steadily less important as the proportion of bookings at negotiated prices from air and hotel suppliers diminishes.
Travel managers need to expand their remit to stay relevant. They can make a different kind of contribution to their companies’ bottom lines by mitigating traveller stress, which boosts employee productivity and reduces the cost of recruitment and retention.
That, at least, is the theory. But as an industry we still need more evidence to prove this hypothesis and galvanise employers to authorise action by travel managers.
RIP Simon Mclean
I was stunned by the news that Click Travel founder Simon McLean died in July, aged only 41. He will be sorely missed.
Simon came into travel by launching a booking agency. When he saw the technology for booking hotels and air was not fit for purpose, he taught himself computer programming and built his own, including a distribution platform and online booking tool.
That allowed him to source content more widely and flexibly. Simon effectively created the same type of technology that New Distribution Capability is now trying to standardise, but years earlier.
Mavericks are often aimless attention seekers. Simon was the opposite. I found him completely unassuming, and he was constructive. He did things differently because he thought they could be done better. Without such innovators, who challenge our complacent conventions, none of us can move on. We are the poorer for losing him.