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How do travel buyers keep up with business travellers’ needs in 2019?

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Scott Davies

CEO, Institute of Travel Management (ITM)

Traveller wellbeing is undoubtedly the hot topic in our industry today, and rightly so. Now that we’ve established that, who’s responsibility is it to manage?

Today’s travel buyer is bombarded with evolving challenges and priorities (data security, safety and security, distribution technologies to name a few) and now the ascending importance of traveller wellbeing. But whose responsibility is traveller wellbeing in an organisation?

Most organisations tend to place ownership of traveller wellbeing between Human Resources and the Travel function¹. However, I think there are two other key stakeholder groups to add to the mix.

Firstly, the traveller’s line manager has a clear responsibility as the individual responsible for the wellness and performance of their team. Secondly, and most importantly, the leadership team of the company – those who set the tone and culture of the business – must communicate and model the expected ways of doing things.

The need for inclusive policies and leading by example

As is the case for any strategy, consistent and authentically-endorsed behaviours are essential, or confusion will reign. In other words, it’s no good having a policy that applies to some parts of organisation, but not others. Similarly, it doesn’t ring true for the CEO to say that employee wellness is a priority, if he or she doesn’t approve a travel policy where travel comfort and work/life balance isn’t equal for all employees.

Today’s travel managers are up for the challenge.

Breaking behaviours and social acceptance

It’s also important for leaders to debunk a dynamic that all travellers will be aware of – the loyalty scheme show-off. In many businesses, the colour of the loyalty scheme card, often accompanied by frequent social media check-ins all over the globe, is worn like a badge of honour to demonstrate commitment to the cause. But, surely the individual who achieves great results, despite never travelling enough to get a free checked bag, is at least as impressive?

Optimising traveller wellbeing

There are many ways to optimise traveller wellbeing. Less travel can be one option, but let’s be clear, when business travel is necessary for maximising the effectiveness of your team, it’s incredibly important – indeed essential – for a thriving business.

Other factors to consider include risk, safety, class of travel and accommodation, access to technology, communication, disruption management, accruing hours, nutrition, health and fitness, etc.

There is no ‘one size fits all’

Today’s travel managers are up for the challenge. In practice, they will be tested by the limitations of cost control, a priority that is going nowhere, and rightly so. For me, the key takeaway is that wellness means something different to everyone and so flexibility within an organisation’s strategy is important.

If people are the most precious asset in a business, their wellness while travelling is just as important as when they’re sitting at a desk (and hopefully standing or taking regular breaks). It makes you wonder why and when was employee wellbeing ever not the top priority?

¹ ITM (2019). ‘ITM Traveller Wellbeing Survey’ in which 69.35% recipients selected Travel Procurement and 66.13%, Human Resources.

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