Guest comment: How millennials are changing business travel

It’s a common thread in industry discussions that millennials are reshaping business travel, but what influence does the generation really have?

The business travel industry has never been more challenged. It is at a critical juncture; driven by a generation who expect their technology to “just work”. A generation that will be flipping between Spotify, Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook one second, and then booking their business travel the next. The next generation is here, and becoming increasingly influential within the workplace. Millennials (typically those born in the mid-1980s and early 1990s) and “Generation Z” (born in the mid-1990s and early 2000s) are the growing ‘iPhone workforce’ that have never known a world without technology. We are a long way from the ZX81 and AMSTRAD PC1512 (that’s 512kb of memory) I grew up on. In this era, you have one shot to impress, and if it’s not consumer grade, it’s legacy.

This expectation is shaping the future of business travel. Millennials now make up the most business travellers worldwide and will comprise half of the global workforce by 2020. Already, 71 per cent of TravelPerk’s customers are millennial, and we have seen first-hand how the workforce has generated a company’s expectations for a better business travel experience. The gap between legacy systems and consumer grade has never been bigger.

Experience is everything
Millennials want to book their business travel in much the same way as the do their online shopping. They want to have all of the aggregated leisure and business travel content in one place, and they want to know what the cheapest price is. This explains the increase in leakage in companies’ business travel programmes in the last few years as this new, tech-savvy workforce expects content from the world’s largest and leading leisure websites in their shopping basket, ensuring they get the best market price.

A sharp increase in “bleisure” trips demonstrates that millennials view their business trips as not just work, but experiences; ones they’d prefer to book for themselves, in a way that is personalised to them. This means that if their experience of using their employer’s preferred booking tool or system is not up to scratch then millennials, as they would do with a payment or messaging app, will simply stop using it and switch over to a consumer tool that they prefer.

Put simply, a poor user experience will cause a millennial traveller to avoid the established processes entirely and book out of policy. This was backed up by research from PhocusWright, which found that 64 per cent of millennials understand their company’s travel policy but still choose to book outside of it because they would rather book for themselves. Businesses that want employees to stay within policy therefore have no choice but to improve their travel programmes, ensuring that they cater to the millennial desire for more freedom and flexibility.

Use feedback
As millennial workers become more influential, businesses must become more agile and scalable. Travel managers and the travellers themselves provide extensive feedback on any given business trip, so the senior figures at the company should know if the technology is working or not. The businesses that will thrive will be those that listen to this feedback and adapt to maximise the travellers’ user experience.

These considerations are also relevant for a business’ prospects for hiring and retaining the best talent. According to a recent study by GBTA, 88 per cent of millennial business travellers in Europe feel traveller experience greatly impacts their job satisfaction. Businesses should therefore consider a comprehensive travel policy for their employees to be a key part of their strategy for attracting and keeping the best staff. This policy must be driven by the travellers themselves and decisions made based on the feedback from their needs and requirements — after all they’re executing on business goals while on the road.

Care for your travellers
Looking to the future, there is a connection between this desire for a more positive business travel experience from millennials, and employers needing to show them that they care about their overall wellbeing before, during and after the trip. It’s something that’s incredibly important to reduce anxiety and demonstrate that the technology the corporation has deployed is driving service and value to the workforce. Add to this the strong correlation between an employee’s business travel experience and their overall job satisfaction, and it’s no wonder that we are seeing a significant rise in innovation in the workplace.

All companies have a “duty of care” for their employees, an obligation to keep them safe while traveling for work. However, businesses should focus on more than doing the bare minimum, and show that their travel policies have been designed to look after each business traveller. Thirty per cent of European corporate travelers fly once per month, which could place a large number of travellers under a lot of stress. The mental wellbeing of business travellers is therefore going to be a hot issue over the next few years and businesses should look to employ technology that reduces any level of anxiety that they may feel.

The business travel industry is constantly changing, with new technologies being implemented to accommodate the growing percentage of the global workforce that is being made up by millennials. By making sure they have an up-to-date travel programme and utilising the latest online booking tools, businesses can show their employees that they are committed to putting them first, and that they care about giving them the best experience possible.

The business travel market has never been more positively challenged. We all strive to make the community a better place, and long may that continue.

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