After several consecutive years of shrinking travel perks, organizations are reinvesting in creating a more comfortable journey for their travelers. They’re well aware of the importance of looking after their employees’ wellbeing. After all, at companies where travel is an important part of the job, travel benefits can be a determinant factor to retain and attract top talent.
As a consequence, the premium cabins keep growing, upper scale hotels are back in the programs, and, overall, big data and predictive analytics are helping travel managers to provide a better experience for their colleagues while still keeping expenses on track.
But what happens when it comes to travelers’ preferences? Are travel managers considering them and adapting their policies to suit?
This year we commissioned a study to explore, among other topics, some of the most frequent scenarios business travelers are confronted with. Do they prefer the window or the aisle seat? Would they rather miss a flight or lose their luggage? Are they still mainly using traditional taxis or are ridesharing services gaining traction? These are some of the questions we asked over 2,700 travelers worldwide.
According to our research, two-thirds of business travelers prefer window seats over aisle seats. That rises to 71% in Asia Pacific, and falls to 59% in the Americas, with Europeans in line with the global trend of 65% window over aisle.
Globally, a narrow majority of business travelers would prefer to miss their flight rather than be separated from their luggage – with travelers from the Americas showing the strongest preference at 54%, European travelers at 52%, and travelers from Asia Pacific split down the middle.
When it comes to ground transportation, 54% of travelers still prefer traditional taxis over ridesharing services like Lyft or Uber. But there are strong regional differences. A full 69% of Europeans prefer taxis – almost exactly the reverse of American travelers, 63% of whom prefer rideshare services. Asia Pacific travelers are more evenly split, with 56% preferring taxis.
Do European travel policies take into consideration travelers’ preferences?
With these findings in mind, we decided to ask our European clients a few questions to see how those preferences fit with their travel programs. Are they taking them into consideration to craft their travel policies?
Regardless of whether they are fans of window or aisle seats, it’s safe to assume that none of us will ever go for the middle seat, something as small as allowing your travelers to pay extra to choose their preferred seats can make a big difference to their overall experience and ease the pain of not indulging themselves in the comfort of the business cabin.
The good news is that 74% of European travel managers that we spoke with say they reimburse travelers for seat selection charges on flights. Despite the fact that this percentage is quite high, over a quarter of companies still do not reimburse the charges. What can travel managers of those that don’t do to look after their travelers?
A wise exercise is to check their frequent flyer status. It is good practice for travel managers to make sure their employees enroll in the company’s preferred airline program. A communication campaign targeting your road warrior community will be the first step. Of course, here is when concentrating volumes in a reduced number of suppliers can have the biggest impact on a company’s overall travel spend. On top of negotiating power for your company and rebates at the end of the year, the fewer suppliers you have, the better the chances for your travelers to increase their status and get the seat they want.
It is also important to check that their traveler profiles are updated. Travel management companies like CWT have profile tools that can stock travelers’ preferences so these are applied automatically to bookings when available. This way your travelers will not be left without their preferred choice if they go for last minute bookings.
Aside from seat allocation, another important part of the onboard experience is in-flight meals. If your travelers fly business, they are covered and have access to a vast array of drinks, meals, and nibbles during the whole journey.
However, what happens to your coach travelers? Are they allowed to order some refreshments? Here again, the airlines are copying low-cost carriers’ pricing model and things that were previously included in the ticket price – like seat allocation and catering services – are becoming an extra.
When asked if they reimburse their travelers for in-flight meals, only 33% of European travel managers say they do. A good compromise to improve travelers’ experience will be to cap these expenses, allow beverages like water or soft drinks, and consider time and flight duration to determine if it is sensible to allow some food ordering. As the Irish say, “Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is.”
When the worst happens, are your travelers covered?
Being stuck in the middle seat or not being reimbursed for in-flight meals is nothing compared to the horror of missing a flight or your luggage.
These are two truly dreadful scenarios that companies need to be prepared for. We asked our European travel managers if their corporate insurance policy covers missed connections as a result of flight delays and delayed or lost luggage. The findings were interesting.
Only 23% of them had missed connections covered and 41% delayed or lost luggage. Depending on the country, you will have different regulations and policies regarding delays and cancelations, so it might be a good idea to review your corporate insurance to make sure that not everything is left at the goodwill of the airlines.
It is also important for your travelers to get 24 hour support and the right tools to rebook flights and other travel arrangements on the spot if the worst happens. Tools like our mobile app myCWT and our follow-the-sun approach for traveler support can play a crucial role when clients are confronted with a missed flight.
At the end of the day, safety and security are an essential part of any travel program. Such is so, that 17% of surveyed European travel managers reimburse travelers who purchase their own travel insurance.
Here again, it is better to work with a reputable insurance company to have a comprehensive package that does not require your travelers to get extra coverage for certain trips. Study your company’s routes and team up with safety and security specialists to determine what is needed.
The thrust of the sharing economy
Ground transportation is a key element of traveling and can be a source of stress for travelers. Depending on the destination, public transport or even a short walk can be a valid alternative, but it is very likely that, at some point, your travelers will need to hire a taxi or a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft.
The controversy about the latest has been hitting the front pages of newspapers all over Europe, so we wanted to know if our European clients allow their use.
Despite taxis still being the preferred method when it comes to ground transportation, 58% of travel managers claim they allow their travelers to use ride-sharing services.
This figure comes to prove these services widely used for personal journeys are entering the business space with force. Travelers love the convenience of these platforms. As a consequence an array of companies are investing in similar tech. Traditional taxis can benefit from being integrated into platforms that allow easy booking and provide direct invoicing. Thanks to this, travelers do not need to advance funds to pay for their rides.
In the end, it all leads to an improved travelers experience. The good news is that all the actors within the business travel ecosystem are working hard towards this goal. The advancement of technology coupled with first-class service is making it possible. A happy employee is a more productive one and one likely to be loyal and develop her talent. It’s all about experience, after all.
Blog author: Chris Bowen, Managing Director EMEA, CWT.