BTN Research Issue: The Frequent Traveler - Business Travel News

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BTN Research Issue: The Frequent Traveler

October 22, 2012 - 03:00 PM ET

By David Jonas

Defining today's business travelers is less about understanding that they've changed from the archetypical road warriors of past decades and more about recognizing the folly in relying strictly on generalizations. Business travelers come in all stripes, with a wide array of tendencies and behaviors. Most use mobile technology, but in innumerable ways. Most want self-service, but not always in all or the same areas. Most, but not all, want to do the right thing by following corporate rules. And those that do don't always know how.

[Please click here to view the digital edition of The Frequent Traveler: Finding A Balance, featuring all charted data, downloadable as a pdf.]  

Such variances create a broad spectrum of traveler types, especially when considering such demographics as age, frequency of travel, job function, level in organizational hierarchy and degree of freedom when choosing travel suppliers and itineraries.

Understanding these differences, accommodating preferences where reasonable and maintaining two-way dialogue are critical as organizations attempt to optimize managed travel programs while keeping traveling employees safe, healthy and productive.

Much has been made of the challenges of managing younger generations of travelers. The conventional wisdom is that those who have known only the Internet age are more insistent on doing their own thing, more likely to immerse themselves in a mobile-reliant world, more likely to empower themselves with information and more problematic when it comes to complying with company policies. While certainly true in many cases, it's by no means a universal rule.

"I can't say that older travelers want it this way and younger travelers want it that way. It's really not age-related," said Agilent Technologies director of worldwide travel Cindy Message. "Travel is very personal. It's a very emotional topic for people. They are influenced by all sorts of factors that set very different expectations. Sometimes I am really surprised when I expect that someone wants something a certain way, and it turns out not at all."

To be sure, traveler proclivities are diverging under the disrupting force of mobile technology. Nearly ubiquitous among travel professionals, smart devices enable a multitude of options for searching, planning, booking, purchasing and managing just about every aspect of a trip. This presents enormous challenges and opportunities for travel managers.

Business Travel News explores these topics on the following pages to help understand how employers work to find equilibrium—between their travelers' work and life, between price and productivity, and between cost and comfort.

The Productivity section examines the question of who takes responsibility for keeping travelers effective. The answer is both employers and travelers themselves, though the blend varies from one organization to the next.

Internet access—whether at airports, on airplanes or in hotels—is an increasingly vital cost item, while providing or at least sanctioning mobile apps is an emerging area that travel departments carefully must consider.

The Remote Conferencing section examines when and why travelers and their employers favor collaboration technologies over travel, though few companies have mandated it. And while remote conferencing is one way companies reduce wear and tear on travelers, in many cases it is, first and foremost, a cost-control tool.

Social media is top of mind in the Communications section, which also addresses the critical function of maintaining contact with travelers during emergencies. Though younger travelers unsurprisingly are more likely to participate in social media than their older co-workers, some managers are recognizing the need to engage all travelers in all channels. Disregarding the ways people communicate in their personal lives is a mistake, they say, but so is duplicating those ways. Better to create platforms specific for work life.

Tying each component together, the Finding A Balance section assesses how travelers are moving away from a work-centric lifestyle, how human resources departments increasingly support schedule flexibility and how travel policy exceptions and customization can be in play for very frequent flyers. But the bottom line for many is that cost savings trumps all.

In Perspective, veteran travel buyer Tom Barrett airs grievances on what he sees as declining service levels around the industry.

Survey Methodology & Demographics  

Data collected as part of this research and presented here were generated from two separate but similar surveys of business travelers and buyers conducted during August and September 2012.

The traveler survey was fielded by Equation Research. The online survey was administered to a panel of consumers that had taken at least four business trips during the previous 12 months.

Four hundred respondents met the criteria and provided responses. On average, they took 11 domestic and 7 international trips during the preceding 12 months and expected to take 10 domestic and 7 international trips during the subsequent 12 months. They were away from home on average for 22 nights for domestic trips and 14 nights for international trips in the preceding year and expected about the same in the year ahead. Their average age was 41 years old, with the following age group distribution: 31 percent under the age of 35; 30 percent between 35 and 44; and 40 percent over 44.

The buyer survey was conducted through online polling tool SurveyMonkey. Email invitations with direct links to the survey were sent to all Business Travel News subscribers, including the BTN Research Council. To qualify, respondents must have been involved in corporate travel managing/procurement and/or meetings management for organizations with at least $500,000 in U.S.-booked air travel spending.

Of the 244 qualified respondents, 79 percent indicated they set corporate travel policies, 82 percent managed business travel cost controls, 77 percent negotiated rates for transient travelers and 56 percent selected/recommended meeting facilities and/or meeting destinations. The distribution of represented organizations' air spend was: 16 percent with $500,001 to $1 million, 11 percent with $1.1 million to $2 million, 40 percent with $2.1 million to $11.9 million, 12 percent with $12 million to $20 million and 22 percent with more than $20 million. Buyers' organizations represented a mix of industries, with finance/insurance (21 percent) and technology (12 percent) the most well-represented.

It is important to note the inherent differences between the two samples. Surveyed travelers were more likely to have worked for smaller organizations—50 percent indicated their companies had fewer than 1,000 employees compared to 21 percent of represented buyer companies. At the same time, 16 percent of surveyed travelers either said their organization had no travel policy or indicated they were unsure. Another 31 percent said their company had an unwritten policy. Unsurprisingly, nearly all buyer respondents worked at companies with written travel policies.

Because a travel policy usually is the foundation of a managed travel program, it follows that some number of traveler respondents would fall into the unmanaged category. Buyers, by virtue of their current responsibilities, of course work for organizations that manage travel.

This report originally appeared in the Oct. 22, 2012, edition of Business Travel News. 

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