Business travel – so crucial to the smooth running of the entire global economy – dropped off significantly across the world during 2020 as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 situation.
However, with plummeting COVID-19 cases in Australia and the hope of the availability of a vaccine in early 2021, we are looking forward to the rebound of business travel.
Businesses are now analysing and looking at how they can control expenditure, bring about operational efficiency and explore ways to be even more flexible before the travel boom hits. This includes reviewing the way they can manage travel expenditure for face-to-face meetings.
Perhaps surprisingly, travel and expense (T&E) is the second-largest indirect spend category for many organisations, and poor travel spend management can lead to frustrated employees, productivity inefficiencies and mounting costs.
While we all know the inherent value personal, face-to-face meetings bring, it’s important to quantify and manage these costs, especially in today’s climate.
Recent research conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Amadeus surveyed 550 key decision-makers within large enterprises with a T&E role. It highlights the challenges organisations face as they assess their T&E systems and processes before the much-anticipated return to business travel.
The good news is that nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of respondents agree that the improvement of T&E management processes and tools is critical to reducing costs, increasing efficiency, improving employee engagement, and forms part of their digital transformation.
All of these factors are key business objectives, so how can organisations address their T&E?
Despite the costs involved and its importance to employee wellbeing, many companies still suffer when it comes to their T&E processes.
A lot of organisations are still relying on outdated systems to manage their travel and expenses. As per the research, more than one in five (22 per cent) of centralised companies still use spreadsheets to track expenses, and just 15 per cent of organisations use a cloud-based T&E solution.
Many decentralised companies also still rely on manual processes – either fully or partly – for their T&E. These kinds of lengthy processes and legacy systems can add a significant workload burden to employees, managers and account processing teams.
Revaluate T&E processes
Having the right systems in place will help rethink T&E processes, from researching hotels and appropriate transport to making expense claims post-trip. Travel managers surveyed difficulties around compliance-related expense tracking, reconciliation and auditing as a key challenge.
Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of travel management leaders want to increase automation to reduce their reliance on manual processes. However, one in five organisations do not feel they are getting the analytical and reporting capabilities they need, despite data being a core priority.
Enable smarter booking
The research also finds that T&E leaders want to be able to manage the huge amount of content out there so that they can make clear decisions when making travel bookings.
Multinational organisations need a global solution so that they can access the best deals and make more informed business travel booking decisions.
Integrate T&E solutions
Integrated T&E solutions are essential for companies as they help their employees take advantage of the best offers for the business trip. They also streamline expense processes, making it quicker and easier to claim and have their expenses approved and paid back.
According to the research, those organisations that use an integrated T&E tool are much less likely to receive complaints from their traveling staff. More than a quarter (27 per cent) of organisations that use an integrated T&E solution reported zero complaints from employees.
Firms without integrated solutions say they see significant impacts, with a 29 per cent increase in delays in reimbursing expenses, coupled with a 40 per cent decrease in productivity among employees observed across the board.
At the other end of the spectrum, satisfaction among integrated T&E tool users is almost universal (96 per cent), and 73 per cent say they plan to expand or upgrade their platforms further.
Improving T&E is a team effort
The research clearly demonstrates that there is consensus across the board that T&E systems and processes can be improved.
Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of business leaders are focused on improving the end-to-end experience of T&E processes, and 73 per cent are committed to improving integration between T&E tools and other systems.
And it’s not just IT leaders who see the value in integrated T&E solutions. More than four out of five procurement managers see improvement of T&E tools and processes as a key part of their organisation’s digital transformation, the highest of any group interviewed by Forrester.
For many firms, the pandemic has made the need for digital transformation, and the cost reduction and efficiencies that come with it, much more apparent. Nowhere is this truer than it when it comes to T&E tools and processes.
Once cross-border business travel picks up to pre-COVID levels, employees across the global economy will resume business trips. At the same time, the old backlog of travel expenses and booking payments will also return for those companies and individuals who are working with outdated processes and tools.
However, there will be huge pressure to make every business trip count. From C-suite, through to travel managers, accounts departments and the business travellers themselves, they are now demanding tools and processes that prioritise the traveller experience while driving the cost savings efficiencies required to thrive in a COVID-19 world and beyond.
Nadia Yahiaoui is the vice president of sales for corporations across the Asia Pacific at Amadeus.
Featured image source: iStock/Bet_Noire