European Travelers Want Flexible Policies - Business Travel News

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European Travelers Want Flexible Policies

November 25, 1996 - 12:00 AM ET

By BTN

London - Nearly one in two business travelers admit to "bending" their office travel policy, while almost a third openly dispute it, according to a Visa International survey of European business travel habits.

One in four travelers believe their policy wastes money, while one in five think it not only wastes time but also puts them at personal risk.

Travelers responding to the survey said company policies that force them to use a particular airline or hotel chain contribute to them traveling at inconvenient hours or staying in inconvenient locations. This can add time and stress-for instance, if they are attending a conference and their hotel is several miles from the meeting venue.

Savings on hotel bills also can be lost on extra taxi or transport costs. Almost 40 percent of the 1,000 frequent travelers questioned felt that a more flexible policy would improve the quality of their trip.

One in four said the most restrictive part of their policy is the spending limit or the requirement to travel economy class. Fifty-nine percent must travel economy on short-haul flights, and 38 percent must travel economy at all times. One-quarter have to travel during what they deemed to be "unsociable" hours, while 41 percent are asked to travel on their own time.

"Travel policies are a vital part of travel management, but the challenge is for European businesses to manage the company's traveling expenses without compromising the optimum performance of its executives," said John Chaplin, senior vice president of marketing for the Visa European Union region. "If one in four executives believe that their policy wastes their company money, it is important to avoid false economies. The cheapest flight on economy class can prove very expensive in the long run if it has to be canceled and rearranged."

"Companies must balance economy against performance," agreed Professor Leo Murray, director of the Cranfield School of Management in the United Kingdom. "The use of rest time during and after travel can be a significant factor in performance during a business trip. And while the survey found wide variations in the ways travelers across Europe relax, they may be better off using the isolation of travel time to de-stress, collect their thoughts, and prepare mentally and physically for their visits."

Visa found huge differences in attitudes across Europe, with some countries much further ahead in business travel management. The survey showed that while close to 77 percent of Dutch firms have travel policies, only 49.5 percent of Italians do.

Most Europeans still make their own bookings, or ask their secretary, while only 6 percent have a travel manager to make the arrangements. The travel manager enforces policy in 6.2 percent of cases, while senior management-which often includes the traveler-oversees 48 percent of trips.

Again, the Dutch led the way, with 16 percent relying on travel managers to make bookings, and 14 percent saying the travel manager enforced the policy. In contrast, just 2 percent of Swedish travelers use travel managers to make bookings, although close to 13 percent will have a company policy enforced by a travel manager.

Overall, 43 percent of European travelers said their company travel policy is strictly enforced, with the British (49 percent) the most rigid compared to the more relaxed Italians, who adhere exactly to the rules in only 30 percent of cases.

Travel policy affects flights more than any other aspect of trips, with more respondents in Italy, the Netherlands and Spain forced to travel economy at all times. Perhaps as compensation, the Spanish are the least likely to travel on their own time or during unsociable hours.

The Spanish worry most about the financial constraints of a formal policy, with 41 percent saying a limited budget restricts their trip. This contrasts with just 11 percent of Belgians making the same complaint; instead, they are more concerned about being required to use preferred carriers.

The Dutch and French are more upset than others about having to travel in economy, while the Swedish and British are most hampered by other financial constraints. The Swedes joined the Italians in complaining about traveling on personal time, while the French and Germans dislike being restricted to certain hotels.

Asked if their travel policy ever put them at risk, more than 16 percent said yes. British and Swedish travelers feel most at risk (21 percent each), while the Italians and the Dutch are the most comfortable about complying with their travel policy.

One in five of the Belgian and French travelers claimed that adhering to their policy costs them time, and most agreed that waiting for flights and connections is the greatest time-waster. Almost one in four of all respondents said that their company's policy wastes money, with 28 percent of the Brits agreeing. The Germans and French also believe money is wasted, while most Spanish are happy with the way budgets are managed.

More British respondents are likely to dispute travel policy (more than 35 percent), while the Swedes and Italians are the most content. But at the same time, only 7.5 percent of the British said there is abuse of the policy, compared to more than 10 percent of the Belgians and Germans. The least abuse occurred in Spain (3 percent) and the Netherlands (2 percent).

While travelers generally do not abuse the policy, many of them feel a more flexible approach would be a benefit. More than 41 percent of the Belgians and 39 percent of the Italians and Spanish said this; all said they would be more relaxed if the policy were flexible.

Almost all business travelers collect frequent flyer points, with the British leading the way at close to 95 percent. The Italians are least likely to join these programs.

Most keep the benefits for themselves, regardless of who pays for the ticket, but 16 percent of the Germans and 13 percent of the Swedish must give points back to their companies. Twenty-eight percent of the Swedish said their travel policies restrict their ability to gain points.
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