Interview: How to improve traveller wellbeing without breaking the bank

Sam Furnier is the co-founder of Perfect Talent, which helps companies to flourish and grow. He is also the author of several management books, which emphasise the importance and benefits of inspiring people. We quizzed him ahead of his talk at Business Travel Show about how organisations can improve traveller wellbeing without it breaking the bank

Wellbeing has shot up the corporate agenda in recent years, how appreciative are businesses about the importance of traveller wellbeing? 
I’m always sceptical when companies talk about wellbeing. Is it because they truly believe that wellbeing is a real economic motor for their business, or is it simply the new ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’; window dressing because good people are scarce to find and hard to retain? 

It’s an important issue that affects companies as a whole as well as the individuals within them. Business travel is one small aspect in this, but it’s still essential that management – and policies – respect it.

Also, culture, perception – and certainly the financial consequences – can make a difference as to how companies treat traveller wellbeing. Some Australians, for example, think you should travel first class if you fly to another continent; it’s bad for the perception of your company if you let employees travel long distance in business or economy. It’s a bit like going to a sales meeting poorly dressed or with an inferior car.

In Europe, on the other hand, it’s often viewed the other way, where many policies book economy for flights within the same continent, even on C-level functions. Of course, this means that business travellers are more likely to encounter noisy tourists with too much hand luggage, making it impossible to work or take a quick nap.

What impact can regular travel have on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees?
The problem is not so much the travel itself, but more the time difference between continents and the full-on agenda facing travellers when they get off the tarmac. Smart and frequent business travellers use each flight to rest, sleep, or regain forces by relaxing as much as possible. Needless to say, however, it’s simply not sustainable to manage hard schedules and jetlag for years on end.

What can travel managers do to combat this?
Ideally, all travel managers should be experienced business travellers. That way they will know what is best for the traveller, even if this sometimes means not travelling at all, but meeting over Skype, for example, which could be the best wellbeing solution ever invented. 

How do they improve traveller wellbeing without ‘breaking the bank’?
It’s critical to have an overview on travel – who is meeting, where, when and why?  I know companies who fly managers across the world for a two-hour meeting. Unless this is in light of a crisis, how can this ever be a good idea? 

A recent Business Travel Show survey put Brexit at the top of the list of ten challenges facing travel managers in 2019. Traveller safety and wellbeing fell off the list altogether. How do you feel about this?
 ‘Business before pleasure’ is a very good English expression. ‘Change what you can’t accept, and accept what you can’t change’, is another. But I believe change is coming, albeit very slowly.

How do you think business travel will look by 2022?
Possible factors that will affect travel in the next three years include the world economy, threats, digitalisation and AI. Political decisions like Brexit, taxes on airline fuel, etc, give us enough reasons to reconsider how to become future-proof and appropriate bold decisions.

Sam Furnier is talking at Business Travel Show on Thursday, 21 February between 1000 and 1100. The Business Travel Show runs 20-21 February at Olympia London. Register for a free visitor pass at businesstravelshow.com/register

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