Business travel in the new normal: Strategies and tools for SME travel programme

INSIGHT

Strategies and tools for SME travel programme

As the pandemic eases, the strategies and tools need to reflect the shift of the new travel landscape for SMEs

Taking on that first business trip can be a huge step for any SME, not least the additional safety concerns and cost of business travel since COVID-19 started.

And with the myriad of uncertainties and changing regulations that are coming down hard on organisations from MNCs to SMEs, many organisations think it’s worth the effort and financial implications to get back to travel.

These concerns are genuine for SMEs. They are usually the worst hit in economic downturns as they don’t have the flexibility that the backing of significant banks gives MNCs.

As with most companies, staff in an SME is also one of the company’s greatest assets, and the concern for their well-being and safety has also climbed to the top of the priority leaderboard in the new landscape.

With so many uncertainties and considerations, you may think, why travel? Throw in the added spotlight on the sustainability of travel and its environmental impact, and you have a full plate of worries on your hands.

However, now is not the time to back-burn travel programmes but to ramp them up. A business environment changing so rapidly and dramatically will require speed and the need to scale your strategies and tools effectively to ready yourself for travel when the need calls for it.

Strategies and tools need to reflect the shift of the new travel landscape as the pandemic eases. Consider the following factors as you plan for the longer term:

  • Put value at the centre of your return to travel strategy: determining the true value of a business trip.
  • Adopt a safety and risk mindset: setting up a resilient and building a risk management culture
  • Data as the cornerstone of your travel programme: doubling down on data focus to achieve greater cost control and optimise the decision-making process

Is it worth it?

While ‘fly-in fly-out meetings can be shifted online, there’s an undeniable benefit of attending that sales pitch in person or site visits to customers or suppliers for that personal touch. SMEs know these values better than anyone else.

The personal touch is intrinsic to the growth of a business for an SME, especially when we’re talking about growth across borders. Any business that isn’t thinking about cross-market collaboration or expansion likely won’t be a business for long.

If you look at why teams from sustainability organisations and even leaders are still flying to gather at COP26 in 2021 (The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), you’ll understand why.

No amount of videoconferencing will be as valuable as six hours spent in the room with your customers, suppliers and colleagues to understand their needs and concerns, how you can better achieve your goals together and build that personal relationship to the next level.

How is it safe?

So your employees still have to fly, how can they do it safely and with peace of mind?

One of the biggest developments in travel risk management since the onset of COVID-19 has been the ISO 31030. Published in September 2021, the document provides organisations with a common standard for building, implementing, and evaluating a travel risk management strategy.

The standard includes guidance on implementing an effective risk management policy, programme development, threat and hazard identification, opportunities and strengths, risk assessments, and prevention and mitigation strategies.

Employees need to be assured that they are being taken care of in the entire end-to-end journey. 24/7 access to updated and timely health and safety information, as well as tools and resources that allow them to navigate their trips safely and confidently, has now become non-negotiable.

Do you know what’s going on?

Many companies still run their companies blindfolded. Data limitations often cause poor decisions to be made and inefficient decision-making processes.

To close the gap, SMEs need to take a fresh look at one thing: data. That means revisiting data on travel restrictions, data on which hotels have the required hygiene standards, data on the length of flight vs airfare class booking matrix. Is it ok to book a business class flight for a two-hour flight to Jakarta? Why or why not?

Some of the paradigms once driven by humans or common-sense decisions are now ripe for reconsideration. Data can help you to make better-informed decisions. It levels up your travel programme, driving the decision-making process and helps to mitigate risks and enhance the safety magnitude of employees.

At a glance, you can see whether the trip is safe enough to take, whether it makes sense and allows you to jump into action immediately when crises occur or if things go wrong.

A big bonus of data? Expense monitor and control. It allows you to monitor spend increases and identify areas where they can be reduced.

Many travel management companies (TMCs) offer integrated traveller and spend tracking technology. These tools can provide up-to-date travel information taken from live feeds provided by risk management companies, and you’ll be alerted when your travellers are in a position of risk.

Importantly, you also get access to regular expense reports, which deters travellers’ shady and frivolous spending habits.

We’ve seen many SMEs start their data journey with spreadsheets and google alerts to track travellers and expenses.

They are often patchy and usually end in disaster when someone accidentally messes up the format or becomes too intensive for continued manual input.

Switching on the data-enabled mindset

A volatile and unpredictable environment is disrupting companies’ business operations and adding a variety of risks from budget and traveller risks and environmental, social, and governance (ESG).

MNCs and large national companies are increasing their emphasis on central control systems to obtain operational and traveller relevant data, and SMEs should not lag in the race.

FCM’s new fee-free travel programme offers startups and mid-sized companies the opportunity to level up their travel programme and kickstart the organisation’s data journey.

SMEs have similar needs as MNCs (although a lot more straightforward) but often don’t have the deep pockets or negotiating power for bundled deals that larger organisations do– this was the premise of the fee-free programme. In essence, we want to support SMEs by helping them to travel more and spend less.

Implementing a travel platform to your company systems might have been a nightmare ten years ago. Still, corporate travel tech has matured significantly over the last decade and accelerated even further in the previous 18 months.

Simple and straightforward, the implementation of FCM Platform and Mobile for an SME’s travel programme can be completed in two weeks with a core emphasis on user experience and at no cost. This allows you to align tech and data with your travel programme, enabling speed and scalability in enhancing your operations to grow your business.

The way forward for SMEs, regardless of the route or tool you choose, will be from keeping a closer eye on data smartly.

It will give you the confidence to jump on a plane to make that connection with a potential new client, better collaborate with your peers and understand your suppliers’ needs without putting your staff or your finances at risk.

Spreadsheets will only take you so far.

This article first appeared on e27 Asia Tech News.

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