Business Travel Trends 2020
tl;dr: Saying hello to travel as a benefit and goodbye to traditional travel policies
Before I became the CEO of Lola.com I thought of myself as a real road warrior. I traveled at least once a month for work and was steeped in those specific preferences and packing techniques that frequent corporate travelers all seem to develop. But in the last year and change I’ve learned that there was a lot I didn’t know about business travel, especially on a macro level.
Now my life is occupied by corporate travel, and I find myself reading and thinking about it all the time. Over the last few months I’ve started to document some of the most common topics and issues — from road warriors, industry insiders, Lola customers and more. I decided to boil down all those emerging trends and evolving preferences into just three predictions for the new year.
Travel will be touted as an employee benefit
The old stereotype is that corporate travel sucks. Bring up traveling for work and you’re likely to hear (valid) complaints about boring conferences, anonymous hotel rooms and time away from family. But the people I talk to (especially younger generations) have a more nuanced view on business travel, one that acknowledges the pain points of traveling for work while still embracing business travel as more of a pro than a con. Even since last year, I’ve seen this point of view become more and more common, and I expect it to continue rising.
Part of the change is due to the rise of bleisure travel, which I wrote about last year. There’s no denying that tacking personal travel on to a work trip is a big plus, but the shift goes deeper than that. As travel tech matures (Uber and Airbnb have already vastly improved business travel for many people), the prospect of traveling to a conference or client’s office becomes easier, more personalized, and more integrated into daily life.
Employers are already starting to notice. Many companies are using travel as a bargaining chip and even finding ways to help employees take better (and more affordable) vacations by passing through corporate discounts or offering the support of specialized agents. At Lola, we’ve seen a huge uptick in the number of customers who offer the platform’s benefits (discounted flights and hotel rooms and 24/7 travel support, for example) even to employees who don’t travel for their jobs.
Self-booking will become the norm, even in managed travel programs
For many years, there’s been an entire industry built around corporate travel agents. You need to fly to San Francisco for a conference? Email the corporate travel agent your dates and they’ll find the right flights and hotels for you. But the rise of online travel apps and more diverse options has caused a surge in employees booking their own travel over the last decade or so.
The exception has been older and larger companies that cling to extensive travel policies and internal booking processes. These companies still rely on internal travel arrangers or external agents to book travel on behalf of traveling employees. But that will change. Quickly.
One reason is that employees are getting sick of it. When we recently surveyed 1,500 frequent corporate travelers (at tiny companies, huge companies and everything in between) we learned that 59% of employees who use a middle man for travel booking feel that this approach is actually wasting their time instead of saving it.
Enterprises are beginning to behave more like startups, and decentralizing travel booking will be just another consequence of this shift. Especially as technology becomes more secure and user-friendly.
Internal and external travel managers are attractive salaries to cut, and traveler-friendly booking tools will make that decision easier, especially among enterprises looking to become more agile.
The traditional ‘travel policy’ will disappear
Raise your hand if you’ve ever spent hours hunting for satisfactory business travel options that fit under an unrealistically low corporate policy. $200 for a hotel in San Francisco during Dreamforce? Good luck.
Many companies have already started to abandon universal spending caps in favor of more nuanced, market-specific policies. But that’s just the beginning. Travel has become so much more complex and varied in 2019 that almost every aspect of travel policies will be reconsidered and often ultimately abandoned.
Will this lead to a Wild West where corporate travelers take advantage of lax oversight? Almost certainly not. More flexible policies (different caps for different markets, for example) and less unnecessary friction (official approvals are an unnecessary and unhelpful step in many travel programs) will take a lot of the pain out of travel management without adding much financial risk.
Most modern companies are looking for less red tape, not more, and loosening their grip on the traditional corporate travel policy is an easy way to remove unnecessary friction.