For Astellas, Pandemic 
Presents an Opportunity for a ‘Smart’ Reset

“Sustainable, mindful, agile, reportable and targeted” program determines whether travel should happen.

For pharmaceutical company Astellas, the pandemic has presented an opportunity to reset its global travel program. Not only is it on the brink of appointing a single global travel management company, but it has also introduced what it calls a ‘Smart’ travel program—supported at the CFO level—to help company employees determine whether to hit the road or to keep it virtual.

‘Smart’ in Astellas’ use is an acronym that stands for “sustainable, mindful, agile, reportable and targeted,” said global travel and expense manager Sammit Khanndeparkar. “It’s there to make employees consider their work-life balance and clearly states, ‘Please travel only if required.’ ”

In the long term, Khanndeparkar said he expects the pharmaceutical company’s business travel volumes to reduce compared to 2019. Recovery so far is nascent, with business travel dampened by ongoing travel restrictions. 

“Asia is still relatively closed, and we don’t want people traveling and encountering problems,” said Khanndeparkar. “Elsewhere, we have a big presence in the U.S., Latam, EMEA and even Africa, and we have colleagues traveling to countries where there aren’t restrictions—where there’s no quarantine or travel advisories.”

“We have a big presence in the U.S., Latam, EMEA and even Africa, and we have colleagues traveling to countries where there aren’t restrictions—where there’s no quarantine or travel advisories.”

Sammit Khanndeparkar

Delaying Deals

Astellas has addressed its accommodation program by introducing a single revised rate cap globally but is in a similar position to most corporates right now, with its minimal data from the last two years preventing it from drawing reliable conclusions. 

“Our airline spend is [historically] pretty huge, but we’re just renewing existing contracts as I don’t know what my baseline is going to be,” said Khanndeparkar. “I’ve been very transparent with them and said maybe next year is the right time for me to say, ‘Right, travel is going to be 30 percent less’ or whatever, and to look at new deals then.”

There is no lack of appetite for business travel, but stringent approval processes remain in place, and travelers are expected to do their due diligence on travel restrictions.

“We ask travelers to download the International SOS app and to check requirements before even booking travel, but it can still change between the time of booking and travelling. That’s why we’re in regular communication with them,” he said.

Despite the complexity of travel currently, the company is keen to drive up online booking adoption and sees the appointment of a single TMC and of Concur as its booking tool globally as key to achieving that.

“We had to globalize our travel program, and that was regardless of Covid. It was too regionalized previously. Everything was managed locally, and we had different policies and processes in place,” said Khanndeparkar. “We want to get everyone except top management booking online.”

The goal is 91 percent adoption, achievable thanks to what he describes as the “cleansing and total reset of our travel program.” He has experience on his side too, having pushed online adoption up to 95 percent at another company.

“Rolling out the new TMC will be a big challenge as well as getting people familiar with booking online,” said Khanndeparkar. “Many of our people have not traveled for a long time so it’s a re-learning experience for them. There’s going to be a lot of training sessions.”