Despite advances in technology and telecoms making remote working easier than ever, business travel within Australia is growing rapidly, with corporate travel the top growth market in Australia’s travel sector, jumping 11 per cent to 21.3 million travellers between March 2017 to March 2018.
Connected to this, is a new type of travel known as “b-leisure”, where Australian employees combine their work trips with a weekend mini-break or leisure activities. While the benefits to employees are obvious, ‘b-leisure’ travel presents new opportunities for businesses that are quick to build it into their employee benefits packages, as a way to differentiate and, in turn, aid in hiring and retaining talent.
At the same time, if not managed properly, b-leisure can lead to compliance and “duty of care” issues for employers. Businesses need to make sure they have the right policies in place around b-leisure travel to protect themselves and their travelling employees.
Combat the challenges of unmanaged travel
Unmanaged travel - travel arrangements that are made without the knowledge of the company’s travel manager or HR team – is one of the biggest headaches of b-leisure travel for Australian businesses.
With emerging travel apps like CTM Mobile and Packr, and peer-to-peer services like Grab and Airbnb now commonplace among the millennial and Gen Z workforce, employees want to be their own travel managers. There’s a big push from the millennial corporate traveller to control trip decisions such as when they choose to fly and where they would like to stay.
This presents a challenge for employers who need to fulfil their duty of care obligations for their employees by keeping them safe, secure and healthy when they’re travelling for work. If travel arrangements are made outside of a company’s approved channels, businesses can’t be sure of how safe the service provider is or know exactly where their employees are, particularly in the case of an emergency such as a natural disaster.
B-leisure can also make it challenging for businesses to keep their travellers in line with their budgets.
In the past, businesses were able to negotiate favourable rates through their travel agencies, on the basis of making regular bookings with certain hotels and airlines. If employees are making their own arrangements, it can impact a company’s negotiating power. Bookings made outside a businesses’ usual travel channels can also make travellers’ expense claims more complex.
Creating an effective b-leisure program
Expedia Group Media Solutions predicts that 60% of business trips morph into ‘b-leisure’ (business with leisure) trips and with millennials making up a growing share of the workforce, a lot of the b-leisure travel spend will be done by this demographic. Businesses that have the proper systems and policies in place can use b-leisure as a way to boost employee engagement and satisfaction.
First and foremost, businesses should consider re-designing their business travel interface to have the same functionality and user experience as metasearch engines and travel apps employees use for leisure trips. This will make it easier – and desirable – for employees to book through the approved channel. You can even consider incorporating leisure add-ons such as destination services and restaurant recommendations to surprise and delight employees.
With hectic and time-sensitive schedules, travellers want to be able to communicate issues and manage travel plans at the touch of their fingertips. Businesses should look at how they can enable employees to manage their corporate travel itineraries and expenses on mobile devices, and access tools to easily split and differentiate between their business and leisure expenses during a work trip. In addition to simplifying travel expense claims, mobile-powered itineraries make it easier for employers to stay in regular contact with their travelling employees and let them know about schedule changes.
Once new travel policies and programs have been designed, HR departments must drive the adoption of them by educating employees on compliance. New approaches such as the use of approved self-booking platforms, can minimise risky behaviours, bring efficiencies, and ensure better visibility over traveller movements.
Ultimately, the secret to building new travel programs for b-leisure is making sure the tools and channels are available on one platform. This not only makes it easier for businesses to consolidate, manage, and process travel information, it also creates a better experience for employees too, which in turn should help drive adherence to company policy. B-leisure is here to stay in Australia and the sooner employers can adapt their processes to control it, the better for business.
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