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New Pulse Survey Considers Business Travel Readiness, According to Travel Managers

SAP Concur Team |

Nearly four in five travel managers say that their department’s FY22 budget and resources are insufficient to meet anticipated travel demand this year.

As U.S. travel volume continues to take steps toward something akin to an “old normal,” a new pulse survey commissioned by the SAP Concur organization in March 2022 suggests that business travel trends are in lockstep. According to the research, 88% of surveyed travel managers—those who direct or administer travel programs for businesses—say that it is very or extremely likely that their industry will see an increase in business travel before the end of 2022. This rings especially true among travel managers at larger companies, younger companies, and companies that have firm travel policies in place for business travelers to follow.

“While perhaps surprising at first glance, there are logical explanations for these findings,” said Ralph Colunga, SAP thought leader on travel and expense technology solutions. “Larger companies typically have a greater dispersed customer base and more global relationships, thus relying on business travel to make and maintain business connections. Younger, developing companies also rely on business travel to help fuel their continued growth. Meanwhile, companies with mature, firm travel policies are likely reassured by that structure, knowing that they have the proper systems and processes in place to help mitigate risk for employees as they resume responsible business travel.”

Although many travel managers expressed confidence that the travel industry is prepared to handle an increase, the data suggests that they are less convinced about their own company’s readiness.

Key findings from the SAP Concur pulse survey of 100 U.S. travel managers include:

 

Business travel is on the rise, especially at larger and younger, developing organizations as well as those with mature, firm travel policies—a trend that is likely to continue.

  • Seventy-seven percent of travel managers say that their organization had more employees traveling for business in March 2022 compared to February 2021, and half (52%) say that their organization has “a lot more.”
    • Travel managers were more likely to say that their organization had a lot more employees traveling for business this March if their company has:
      • 1,000+ employees (61%*).
      • been in business for less than 25 years (68%*).
      • firm travel policies (69%*).
  • All surveyed travel managers (100%) say that it is at least a little bit likely that their industry will see an increase in business travel before the end of 2022. Eighty-eight percent of those travel managers say that an increase is very or extremely likely.
    • Travel managers were more likely to say that a 2022 increase in business travel is very or extremely likely in their industry if their company has:
      • 1,000+ employees (91%*).
      • been in business for less than 25 years (96%*).
      • firm travel policies (97%*).
  • Most travel managers (96%) think that their company’s travel spending will increase in the next 12 months—predicting an increase of 34% on average.
    • Forty percent of travel managers at companies that have been in business for less than 25 years think that their company’s travel spending will increase by 50% or more in the next 12 months, compared to only 7% of those at companies that have been in business for 25+ years*.
      • The average spending increase expected by travel managers at younger companies is 41%, compared to an average spending increase of 20% expected by those at older companies*.

 

Most travel managers feel that the travel industry is ready for an increase in business travel. However, they—like finance managers—do have some doubts about their company’s readiness, regardless of preparations.

  • Nearly three quarters of travel managers (73%) say that the travel industry, in general, is very or completely prepared to handle an increase in business travel in 2022.
    • Sixty-two percent of travel managers say that hotels and lodging are capable of meeting demand for an increase in business travel this year, and 60% say the same about airlines. At 53%, travel management companies—travel agencies that help organizations manage their business travel—are viewed as the least likely to be ready from the travel manager’s perspective.
  • Almost all travel managers (98%) say that their organization has taken steps in the past 12 months to prepare for a potential increase in business travel in 2022, including:
    • investing in new travel tools and technology (77%).
    • implementing new or modified travel policies (70%).
    • providing additional travel-related training to employees (60%).
  • Yet, 79% of travel managers say that their department’s FY22 budget and resources are insufficient to meet anticipated travel demand—and 51% “strongly agree” with that sentiment.

 

While travel managers continue to face challenges associated with the pandemic—including growing responsibilities, staffing shortages, and varying support from industry partners—they also feel more empowered.

  • Growing responsibilities
    • Almost all travel managers (99%) say that their role has become more challenging since the start of the pandemic. Top reasons include:
      • additional paperwork requirements (58%).
      • new or added HR-related tasks (56%).
      • new or added involvement in internal communications (56%).
      • added policy-related responsibilities (55%).
  • Staffing shortages
    • Half of travel managers (50%) say that taking on additional work caused by staffing shortages has made their role more challenging.
    • On average, travel managers whose role has changed since the start of the pandemic estimate that they are spending 11 hours each week on new tasks outside their responsibilities that should be taken care of by someone else*.
  • Varying support from industry partners
    • Nearly all travel managers (99%) agree that they are more likely to do more business with travel partners who have remained flexible in the face of the uncertainty of the past year.
    • This is likely influenced by their experiences in working with industry partners during the pandemic to help accommodate travelers’ expectations for increased flexibility and control, which have been mixed:
      • Thirty-five percent of travel managers say that industry partners have been true partners, proposing options and solutions to help.
      • Thirty-one percent say that industry partners have accommodated requests when they can but haven’t gone out of their way to assist.
      • Thirty-four percent say that industry partners have been inflexible in their policies, leaving it to travel managers to find solutions.
    • However, 97% of travel managers say that they feel more empowered now than before the pandemic in their ability to make demands of their travel providers, including 66% who say they feel “much more empowered.”

“These past few years have been challenging for everyone, and travel managers are no exception,” said Ralph. “Travel managers had to rely on intuition and adaptability to anticipate and manage a variety of travel scenarios and, most importantly, employees’ safety and well-being. Our findings suggest that travel managers are coming out of this difficult situation with confidence and the knowledge that they can rely on true partners for help when needed.”

Additional SAP Concur research is coming down the pike. Stay tuned for a look at business traveler perspectives in an upcoming post, and read pulse survey findings that explore the financial side of the return to responsible business travel here.

 

*Small base size; directional findings only.

The SAP Concur Travel Manager Survey was conducted by Wakefield Research among 100 U.S. travel managers, between March 1st and March 10th, 2022, using an email invitation and an online survey.

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