When a conference call won’t cut it: how to make the most of business travel

Fabienne Cauli, Vice President and General Manager at Global Commercial Services, American Express

Emails, video calls and instant messaging are the foundations of today’s businesses. But while technology is hugely helpful for day-to-day communication, there’s still no substitute for a face-to-face meeting to help establish and reinforce professional relationships.

That’s according to research American Express conducted with YouGov. The survey of over 2,000 regular business travellers showed that in-person meetings are essential to achieving objectives, with over half (54%) saying that reducing current levels of business travel would give competitors and advantage – and almost a quarter (22%) believe revenue would decrease by 50% or more if face-to-face meetings were curbed.

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As a result, it’s not surprising to see that the frequent UK business travellers we surveyed undertake work-related trips on a regular basis. On average, they undertook 11 trips a year, with six in the UK and five overseas. It’s clear that business professionals still need to travel to search for new opportunities and unlock growth in a globalised marketplace.

But in a challenging economic backdrop, companies remain under pressure to manage any and all discretionary expenditure. Optimising productivity is key to making sure any business travel is as valuable as possible. So, what are the top three ways business leaders can offset unnecessary costs and complexities of business travel?

 Pre-trip-planning 

Fabienne Cauli
Fabienne Cauli

To ensure business travel continues to have a positive impact on the bottom line, preparation is key. Just over three-quarters of UK professionals (76%) reported that preparation helps them to be more productive, with 70% typically researching topics in advance of meetings, and over two thirds (68%) preparing presentations ahead of time. From a relationship-building perspective, 55% researched countries they haven’t been to before and read about local customers and etiquette, in a bid to curb cultural faux pas and make a good first impression.

On the logistical side, businesses can support their employees by ensuring admin and travel logistics are straightforward and fuss-free. Checking into flights in advance, selecting airport lounge access and offering business credit cards will all help business travel go off without a hitch.

 Have the right expenses management strategies in place 

Business travel can be hugely rewarding – allowing employees to explore new countries and build important relationships. But an unavoidable downside is the administration that comes with it, so it’s no surprise that 27% of those surveyed said they disliked the large amount of paperwork – including logging expenses – that comes with business travel. But expenses don’t need to be painful. Choosing the right business expense reporting tools will be key to making the process as smooth as possible for your employees.

Ideally, your chosen platform should have a straightforward and intuitive interface. Allowing users to simply scan and upload receipts will also save a huge amount of time. Finally, it’s important the system works well across devices, from laptops to mobile. Those using the tools the most are likely to be spending much of their time on the road – and filing expenses on-the-go is far easier than having to sort through an overflowing envelope of receipts when back in the office.

From a business perspective, full visibility and an analytical breakdown of travel and expenses can clearly pinpoint areas where savings can be made. This insight is key as it offers the opportunity to better manage risk and deliver compliance, as well as improve productivity and drive efficiencies.

 Offset last minute travel and tech hitches 

Even the best-laid plans can go awry. Every frequent flyer will recognise the sinking feeling of realising they’ve left their laptop charger in the office, orgetting stuck with an expensive fine after forgetting to check in online. But these last minute hitches can also have a knock-on effect on work: the business leaders we surveyed said that travel and tech issues have the most detrimental effect on their productivity, with travel delays affecting two thirds (66%), and access to internet or other technology problems hindering 62%.

So don’t underestimate the importance of powering-up devices in advance, or keeping on top of travel updates. Ultimately, it’s these small acts of preparation that will make a positive difference to performance and make business travel that bit more productive.

Finally, while business travel has important commercial goals, its benefits go beyond the bottom line. Our research showed that professionals value the opportunity to travel with work and the development opportunities it brings – making it an important attraction and retention tool for employees. While travel budgets are often the first area of spending to be cut, its commercial and personal benefits show that a face-to-face is often still the preferred option.

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