Travel policies: morals and ethics as important as cost savings

Too much emphasis on cost savings when it comes to managing business travel can impact negatively on trip success and employee retention, according to a recent study by Airlines Reporting Corp (ARC).

Monique Swart, founder of the African Business Travel Association (ABTA), says for most companies, cost savings and traveller safety are the two key focus areas for travel policy. “Depending on the company, some will tell you traveller safety is number one, others say cost first. The challenge corporates face is that often these two goals can be at odds with each other – to keep travellers safe, happy and productive can often mean spending more money, as opposed to going with ‘cheap’ flight and accommodation options that save money, but often impact the traveller negatively.”  This, according to Swart, is where the role of the travel manager is so important; to find that balance between cost savings and happy, safe travellers.

Not being able to find the right balance can lead to unhappy employees, and, the study suggests, can even increase the likelihood of employees leaving the company. Done on 742 US-based road warriors, the study found that those who spent 35 nights away from home, and took at least four air trips in the last 12 months, said there was a 24% chance they would voluntarily leave their employer in the next two years. Those managed by cost-focused travel policies were twice as likely to leave when compared with those managed by traveller-focused policies (33% risk of leaving compared with 17%).

Almost two-thirds (63%) of road warriors rated their trips as mostly or very worthwhile, but those managed by traveller-focused policies reported a trip success rate nine-points above those managed by cost-focused policies (66% compared with 57%).

“When looking at total cost of travel, a staff member’s productivity and lost productivity (salary divided by hours lost) really opens up the picture a lot,” adds Swart. “ What is the point of saving R1 000 on a cheap flight where the traveller does not have lounge access and spends two hours transiting, not being able to work, when this R1 000 is lost twice over when looking at the loss for the company in having a staff member unproductive for two hours?”

Most importantly, Swart says that if the cheap options mean potential health or safety risks for travellers, this could lead to serious trouble from a duty-of-care perspective. “Moral and ethical elements need to be taken into account as seriously as financial elements.”

Sleep and mental health

Almost half (48%) of road warriors hoped to travel less often in two years, with increased rewards and recognition from airlines and hotels, and more comfortable travel being the two most important factors for their willingness to keep travelling.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) said when it came to hotels, a comfortable bed, pillows, and temperature, as well as a quiet room and good WiFi were important to the success of their business trip. For flights, important factors for a successful trip included no cancellations or delays, non-stop flights and preferred seating. Some 68% said sleep quality was important for their success on the trip, with 25% saying they were significantly or extremely affected by jet lag.

This group also reported 20% fewer worthwhile trips, and a 14% higher chance of leaving their jobs. They also had much less interest in travelling in two years compared with those less affected by jet lag.

High scores of depression and anxiety were reported by 23% of respondents. Compared with those with low to average anxiety and depression scores, this group has a two-year attrition risk twice as high (37% compared with 17%), report nearly half as many worthwhile trips (39% vs 75%), and far less interest in travelling in two years.

And 17% said they were presently or nearly burned out from travel. The main causes for this include too many nights away from home, general stress of travel, and travel’s negative impact on their health and their families.

“There is a level of strategy involved in achieving this [balance between cost savings and happy, safe travellers], where travel managers look beyond simply the costs of the travel products (air, hotel etc), to become more strategic in managing the total cost of travel to bring costs down, as opposed to skimping on air, accommodation, transfers etc,” Swart says. Ensuring traveller compliance with preferred suppliers in order to get the volumes needed to negotiate reduced rates, or ensuring travellers book in advance to avoid last-minute premium pricing plays a role in this, she says. “There are a myriad ways to strategically save money, without putting travellers’ safety and wellbeing at risk.” She says it is a balancing act, but travel managers know that if a traveller is put in physical jeopardy or resigns due to stress related to travel, it is not worth it to save money.

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