Globalisation has brought about a significant shift in attitudes to business travel. What was once seen as a necessary – if somewhat tiresome – part of work has become a useful tool when it comes to attracting staff.
That’s according to new research from American Express undertaken by YouGov into business travel, which shows that it has joined the ranks of sought after employee perks, alongside pension contributions, health and life insurance, and flexible working, with professionals across Europe saying business travel is not only good for business, they personally find it highly rewarding and enjoyable.
While business travel has clear commercial goals, it hasn’t traditionally been used as a way to recruit and retain employees. But nine out of ten of the UK business travellers we surveyed said they enjoyed travelling for work, with 71% saying it makes their job more interesting – the highest percentage out of all countries included in the global survey. And the vast majority (80%) said business travel has helped broaden their world view, allowing them to explore new places and discover new cultures.
Forget office yoga, the Nespresso machine and 4 o’clock finishes on a Friday: are business travel opportunities the way to attract and retain employees?
Business travel benefits
The professionals we surveyed seem to think so. With the UK business travellers surveyed undertaking 11 trips a year on average, with six in the UK and five overseas, you’d be forgiven for thinking that business travel was all exhausting early starts, airport lounges, and uninspiring hotels. But respondents say it is a part of the job that makes them proud, broadens their worldview, and opens them up to new experiences and cultures – so much so, in fact, that 52% would consider moving abroad as a result of the positive experiences they’ve had when overseas for work.
Business travellers also see the benefits on a professional level, with 38% saying it helps them progress their career. They also realise the value of face-to-face meetings in achieving their objectives at work: over half (54%) of respondents said reducing business travel would give competitors an advantage, and almost a quarter (22%) believed revenue would decrease by 50% or more if face-to-face meetings were curbed. Respondents also said prospect conversion rates (49%) and existing customer bases (48%) would shrink significantly, highlighting the importance of face-to-face contact in today’s digitally connected global marketplace. While emails, video calls and instant messaging are incredibly useful tools for day-to-day business needs, nothing beats real face time (rather than the Apple version).
Staying well, while on the road
This increasing desire to travel means companies can use it as a useful way to attract and retain employees. But our research also highlights the importance of professionals looking after their health and wellbeing while on the move, which in turn will ensure business trips are productive and enjoyable.
When asked to choose the top three factors most detrimental to their wellbeing when travelling, UK professionals chose: not getting enough sleep (56%); fatigue as a result of being busy or extended working days (50%); and not exercising as much (34%); eating too much or differently (34%).
It’s important that employers also do what they can to help boost productivity and wellbeing for their employees on the road. On a practical level, making sure professionals have access to a business credit card, and that paperwork and admin around trips is fuss-free and easy, will ensure business travel is smooth and successful.
When it comes to the travelling itself, professionals say staying in 4- or 5-star accommodation (36%) , access to airport lounges (39%), travelling in business class (36%) and use of business credit cards (26%) are the executive travel services they value the most.
Also key to ensuring employee wellbeing while away is encouraging them to unwind and relax during free time – using facilities at hand, such as hotel spas or gyms, will be essential to avoiding the business travel slump. Respondents in the survey also said they value the ability to add personal time onto a trip (33%) or use down-time to catch up with friends (36%) or sightsee (54%). Being flexible when it comes to “bleisure”, and giving employees the opportunity to tack a couple of days of leisure-time on while away for work, can help ensure the all-important work-life balance.
Helping businesses take off
In an era of increased cost cutting, travel budgets are often the first area of discretionary spend to be cut. But as an increasingly important part of business growth, and considering the professional, commercial and personal benefits it brings, we urge businesses of all sizes to resist replacing flights with phone calls where practical. Business travel plays a key role in maintaining relationships – both with clients and employees – and companies who use it to their advantage will reap the rewards.
All figures, unless otherwise stated are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,075 adults (aged 18+) in eight countries who had travelled for business at least five times in the last year, of which at least two times were abroad. Countries surveyed include: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, UK and USA. Sample size for the UK was 271 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 10th and 28th August 2017. The surveys were carried out online.
Fabienne Cauli is Vice President and General Manager, Global Client Group, at American Express. Within this role, Fabienne manages the Company’s Global Corporate client relationships and is responsible for American Express’ top European and Asia-Pacific headquartered clients.
Fabienne has worked at American Express for over 17 years in increasingly senior positions across international markets (Europe and Asia-Pacific). She holds a Post-Graduate qualification in International Business from La Sorbonne University, and has a Master’s Degree in International Commerce and Sales from the University of Paris. Alongside her role as GM, Global Client Group, Fabienne is a member of the Board of Directors of American Express Bank LLC Russia (AEB LLC), and American Express Payment Services Europe in the United Kingdom (AEPSL). She is also a member of the American Express Executive Women’s Interest Network European Steering Committee, which focuses on women’s career and leadership development.