Travel and Expense

Travel Managers Are Seeing More Travel and Expanded Roles

Neha Mehta |

Whether a company’s travelers are taking to the skies and roads again is – as they say about real estate –  often a matter of location, location, location.

Many U.S. companies are restarting domestic travel to varying degrees, but international travel largely remains business-critical and requires special approvals. In some organizations, U.S.-based employees are, in effect, testing the new systems and procedures that corporations have put into place for travel and duty of care.

Sally Abella, senior director of Global corporate travel at Harman International Industries Inc., said, “Our travelers are very, very anxious to get back on the road, they want to be in front of the client, they want to be having some collaboration there.”

But the likelihood employees will be allowed to travel can depend on its purpose. The pandemic and its virtual meetings demonstrated in-person contact might not be as necessary.

“When we look at business-critical when it's customer- or partner-facing, it's definitely going to have a little bit different of an outcome than if we look at the need for internal meetings and getting face to face,” said Kate Rilling, senior manager, global travel and expense at ServiceNow.

Abella and Rilling spoke as panelists during a recent session, Inside the Minds of Travel Managers: Navigating Travel Today, of the SAP Concur Travel Industry Summit. They and other experts acknowledge the pressure to travel will grow as corporate offices reopen. For now, gaining approval to travel can involve extensive screening that includes senior management and security officers.

“And it will remain remain that way,” said another panelist, Alison Rogan, head of travel and expense at Barclays.


What companies have done

In addition to tightening approvals, organizations have instituted systems and technology to provide information to their travelers. Managers say they know many are hesitant about venturing out into the world again, and education and resources are ways to make the travelers more comfortable while fulfilling duty of care.

Companies have added internal microsites and beefed up the information – including prompts – on travel portals. One company created a popular five-week series on travel in the new normal, with airline, hotel, rental car, and airport representatives sharing insights.

As office locations reopen, one organization has made sure travelers can be safely accommodated, basically allowing visitors to book a seat at the office. Employees of another company can check, via the travel portal, and find the status – Open? How open? Restrictions? – at individual company locations.

The relevance and length of available information matters, as travelers are more likely to use it if they aren’t buried by it. One company went beyond portals and electronic prompts, with a travel team member reaching out once an employee books a trip to make sure they knew about new resources and protocols.

“These are tools that gives them insights about the destinations they're traveling to, what to expect on the ground, whether they need to wear face masks, what supplies are doing, the airlines, the hotels,” Rilling said. “The process has to be intuitive.”


Sustainability goes hand in hand

The heightened emphasis on sustainability is a natural fit with new ways of traveling.

Organizations are illustrating greener options when travelers book flights, hotels, rental cars, and more. They’re giving hints, such as reminders to bring one’s own cup, and seeking suppliers with more sustainable practices and then highlighting them.

The pandemic provided the opportunity to reconsider past practices. One travel manager described how, previously, employees at one office would fly within their state to be present for meetings at headquarters, often multiple times a month.

“It really has forced us during this time to say, ‘Was that an efficient use of my time as the traveler? And was it an efficient use of the company's time to have that happen?’” Rilling said.


Travel managers’ changing roles

Travel managers say that although they often had a voice with senior management, their roles have grown and been heightened during the pandemic.

“We've picked up additional responsibilities that perhaps wouldn't have sat in our in our area before,” Rogan said.

The appreciation has grown that getting employees from one place to another safely is no simple matter, and that travel should be a central part of the business plan instead of an outlier that’s solely the responsibility of travel managers.

“It's really just been a great opportunity to find our place within the organization and to say, ‘You know, it's really time that we take a better focus on our global travel and expense program, and invest in it, invest in it so that we can be a key contributor towards environmental sustainability efforts, a key contributor to health and safety … really championing that duty of care process,”  Rilling said.

Learn more

Panelists Suzanne Neufang, GBTA; Alison Rogan, Barclays; Kate Rilling, ServiceNow; and Sally Abella, Harman International Industries Inc., share their insights in the session Inside the Minds of Travel Managers: Navigating Travel Today from the SAP Concur Travel Industry Summit. Watch the session today.

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