Business Travel: Should HR Call the Shots?

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3 min read

JOHANNESBURG – Business travel is a make-or-break issue for employees. A dream trip can inspire loyalty; a crammed business calendar of red-eye flights might send talent packing. But companies can flip the script by letting HR steer their travel programmes. The result? Happier, more productive travellers who feel valued by their employer.

According to a Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) report in 2023, 79% of business travellers say on-the-go experiences directly impact their job satisfaction and devotion to the company. So, with retention more critical than ever, smart firms are sprucing up travel policies to excite rather than alienate employees.

The case for putting HR in the driver’s seat

Since attracting and retaining talent falls squarely in HR’s wheelhouse, it makes sense for them to champion better travel experiences. 

“HR owns company culture, policies, employee welfare – so they’re uniquely positioned to address pain points in the travel programme,” says Bonnie Smith, GM of FCM. “With their pulse on what motivates employees, HR can dig into the roots of traveller frustration and fine-tune policies.” 

Lately, they’ve zeroed in on diversity, equity and inclusion by tailoring trips to accommodate a spectrum of needs – from disabled adventurers to religious observers to globe-trotting parents.

Wellness and sustainability are now massive priorities on HR’s radar, too. “Younger employees want reassurances there are eco-friendly travel options, and their health and safety are supported on the road,” Smith explains. Since HR guides corporate conscience, they seem fit to spearhead these initiatives. 

The case for travel management expertise

“While HR plays a key advisory role, you still need dedicated corporate travel managers running the complex behind-the-scenes operations,” Smith adds. She highlights the intricate strategy, number-crunching, and risk management responsibilities needing specialised focus. 

“Juggling spend across volatile supplier markets, managing tracking systems, responding to crises – that all requires capabilities beyond most HR teams,” Smith stresses. Confident travellers also make more productive travellers. 

As Smith explains, “Anxious, worried employees rarely make for efficient business trips.” Thanks to their big-picture view of employee welfare, HR has unique insight into vulnerabilities and gaps in travel confidence. However, travel management teams also wield years of experience constantly refining policies and crisis communication amid ever-shifting global hazards. When crisis strikes, they have robust, rapid response capabilities to extract travelling staff securely. 

The best of both worlds  

Rather than overburden HR leaders already wearing multiple hats, collaborative integration seems the winning formula. HR can advocate for employee needs and share insights on pain points, while travel management brings multifaceted know-how to create positive end-to-end experiences. 

Too often, travel falls through the cracks due to corporate silos – HR owns policy, finance handles budget, legal deals with risks. This fragmented system fails travellers and companies alike. “Optimising business travel hinges on integrated collaboration between travel management, HR and other departments,” Smith says. 

What’s that look like in practice? As lead designers of employee experiences, HR still plays a pivotal role in conveying pain points and gauging programme sentiment. Meanwhile, travel managers provide guidance around evolving risks, vendor selection balancing policy and traveller expectations, and more. Smith says, “HR and travel management identifying issues and opportunities together drive huge competitive edge.” The result? Personalised, empathy-driven experiences aligning diverse needs, budgets and values.

The key is strategically combining HR’s insider knowledge of employee needs with a travel management company’s intelligence and expertise. This allows companies to provide customised travel experiences addressing:

•             Personal preferences – favourite hotel chains, seat choices, dietary needs 

•             Inclusion and accessibility – disabilities, religious requirements, family situations

•             Health, safety and wellbeing – pre-trip health checks, destination risk ratings

“The magic lies in HR and travel management working synergistically together—HR as the employee advocate, and travel management as the operational experts,” Smith concludes. “That’s how you create a travel programme that meets every need.”