Travel and Expense
Small Business Employees Use Business Travel to Boost Career
The past year has been hard on small businesses. The National Federation of Independent Business’ Small Business Optimism Index revealed that for the 20th straight month in August, business owners scored their outlook below average. With a year strained by inflated prices, staffing shortages, continued supply chain issues and more, it’s understandable.
Yet, when we delve into small and medium-sized business (SMB) employees and their stance on business travel, we see a resilience to succeed. SAP Concur partnered with Wakefield Research to conduct the fifth-annual Global Business Travel Survey. Based on responses from 1,650 employees at small and midsize companies, SMB travelers are hungry for business trips to build their careers.
Business Travel Builds Relationships
Travel willingness among SMB workers has increased over the past year. Two-thirds (67%) of SMB travelers are very willing to travel for business in the next 12 months. That’s compared to 54% from our 2022 SAP Concur Global Business Travel Survey. While 39% of SMB travelers were traveling less than they’d like in 2022, only 18% say the same this year.
All in all, nearly all SMB travelers (95%) are at least somewhat willing to travel for business this year. For SMB employees, it’s about career success: The vast majority (92%) believe the future of their career depends on successful business travel in the coming year, particularly as it relates to their relationships with customers. About two out of five say business travel is critical for maintaining strong relationships with their clients and establishing relationships with new clients.
“Business travel is more important than ever,” says small business expert Steve Strauss. “Not only are employees clamoring to get on the road and meet colleagues at in-person live events, but even more importantly, they want to get out there and see their old customers, or — even better — get some new ones. They know only too well that Zoom can only take you so far; the best way to get over the goal line is to meet customers and prospects face-to-face, and that means business travel has to be on the agenda.”
Indeed, fewer SMB travelers report reduced travel budgets in response to the uncertain economy than their counterparts at larger companies (39% vs 46%). But that doesn’t mean SMB travelers are staying at five-star hotels. Outside of budget reductions, SMB travelers report their company has required them to stay in lower-quality accommodations and/or less safe areas (34%).
Tip: Small businesses should reconsider this budget-cut option and take a page from larger companies’ playbook. More business travelers from larger companies report reductions in the number of overnight trips and requiring more same-day returns (37% vs 32%), tightening business/premium class travel policies (34% vs 27%), and emphasizing lower fares even if they include layovers, indirect routes, or alternative airports (33% vs 31%). These cost-saving measures are safer for employees.
Supporting Travelers with Flexible Policies
Small business leaders can support their employees’ ambition with the right travel policies, and if they learned anything during the pandemic, it’s that employees want flexibility. Nearly three in 10 SMB travelers (29%) would decline a business trip that lacks the flexibility to make adjustments to the trip outside of company policy. Indeed, nearly all SMB travelers with a corporate travel policy (94%) expect to be allowed to make travel choices outside of company policy.
It's not a want, it’s a need. Nearly half of SMB travelers expect to be able to surpass company policies to ensure they’re safe when traveling. Of the 93% that are willing to refuse a business trip, safety or social concerns about traveling to certain parts of the world and health concerns about the destination are the top reasons.
Why? The unfortunate reality is many SMB travelers have faced these issues during business trips:
- Nearly 3 in 5 (58%) have changed their accommodations on a business trip in the past 12 months specifically because they felt unsafe, with over a third (34%) reporting they did this more than once.
- Nearly a quarter (23%) have experienced a situation while on a business trip where they felt they were in immediate danger.
- Health and safety concerns (46%) are by far the most viewed threats to business travel today among SMB travelers, followed by last-minute delays and cancellations by airlines (38%) and inflation (37%).
“For small businesses, employees are more than just a number, which is why it is important for them to know where their people are,” says Kacey Flygare, General Manager and Global Business Head of SMB at SAP Concur. “The first step is making sure you have the visibility into business trips and then establishing a plan to care for them. Policies and procedures should outline how companies will be able to communicate with traveling employees and protocols for if they get sick or need emergency care.”
There are other concerns impacting travelers’ willingness as well. Nearly a third of SMB travelers (29%) would refuse a business trip if it required travel to a location with a government or culture they don’t support. One out of five (25%) would refuse a trip over concerns about the environmental impact of the trip.
Tip: Creating an effective travel policy is complex and with employee concerns rising, it’s worth consulting an expert. SAP Concur offers many resources to help business owners develop travel policies, including templates and App Center partners that can provide senior health and security experts to advise on comprehensive plans and procedures. Visit the website to learn more about our duty of care services.
The SAP Concur Global Business Travel Survey was conducted by Wakefield Research between April 7 and April 28, 2023, among 1,650 business travelers, including 1,103 from small to midsize companies with fewer than 1,000 employees and 547 from companies with 1,000 or more employees in 6 market: US, Canada, UK, France, ANZ region (Australia and New Zealand), and Japan. Data has been weighted to facilitate tracking.