The latest edition of the European Business Travel Barometer by American Express Global Business Travel reveals that while spending in the sector is set to increase in 2018, travel managers are increasingly trying to find the right balance between policy and traveller satisfaction.

The business travel marketplace outgrew predictions in 2017, growing 3.1 per cent (as opposed to the expected 2.5 per cent), boosted by medium-sized companies (up 5 per cent) and small businesses (up 3 per cent). American Express GBT says growth in travel spend is expected to continue this year at 3.4 per cent.

Geopolitical situations don’t appear to be hindering growth in business travel, with 60 per cent saying Brexit has not had a significant impact and 65 per cent saying the same of travel restrictions initiated by the Trump administration.

While businesses continue to place heavy importance on face-to-face meetings, spend is shifting more toward conferences, conventions and corporate events (up five percentage points) to the detriment of internal meetings. The increase in employees in the field was noticeable in this year’s report, with 42.1 per cent travelling in 2017 compared to 39.7 per cent in 2016.

Finding a balance
Travel managers are facing increased pressure to keep their travellers safe while providing them with the options they demand. 65 per cent of the 1,000 buyers surveyed implemented a duty of care policy in 2017, and travellers are accepting the changes – 29 per cent have adopted duty of care solutions and 49 per cent remain open to such solutions.

At the same time, travel managers are looking at ways to keep travellers engaged with their policy; mobile devices are seen by 83 per cent of companies as an additional booking tool as opposed to a replacement for traditional methods. Businesses are also turning to non-corporate related services such as concierge or leisure amenities (30 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively).

Although travel managers count traveller satisfaction as an important factor in deciding their policy, 56 per cent indicate that they actively measure happiness and only 32 per cent change their policy to accommodate traveller feedback.

However, companies are still keen to present themselves as caring organisations; 57 per cent said travellers’ opinions will impact policy. This is especially true when it comes to offering a choice of booking tools across devices (72 per cent), preferred booking options, either direct or indirect (67 per cent), and duty of care solutions (62 per cent).

Key themes
Efficiency is a top priority for travel managers when it comes to optimising costs, with increasing online bookings the number one concern this year. This is followed by advanced assessment of the relevance of a trip and its cost, increasing advanced bookings and boosting the use of agreed corporate rates.

Face-to-face meetings are becoming more of a priority for companies, with replacing internal business trips with audio, video or web conferences slipping to fifth place in 2018 from first in 2017.

Meanwhile, the sharing economy is still struggling to capture the interest of corporate travel managers, with use of such services remaining in 20th place on the list of priorities even though 40 per cent agree that using sharing economy providers could be a way to save money. While 52 per cent of respondents say they intend to use such suppliers in the next two years, 20 per cent are reluctant to include them in their company policy.

TMCs under scrutiny
While the use of TMCs remains steady – 79 per cent of respondents use at least one agency, while the use of multiple suppliers has increased by seven percentage points – 25 per cent of companies have challenged their TMC’s business model. This shows that TMCs are facing the global issue of aligning their models with clients’ changing needs.

A full copy of the European Business Travel Barometer can be downloaded here.

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