“Business travel now looks completely different to how it did back in 2019. It’s more personal now and every trip is treated as its own project,” says Carol Fergus, global travel and meetings director at Fidelity International.
Backing that up at Fidelity is the introduction of ‘Ten Steps Back to Travel’, a programme designed to scrutinise every trip from both the point of view of the employee and the employer. “When we think about travel now, we consider traveller wellbeing and work-life balance, sustainability, technology, and cost – in that order. That’s our order of priority now,” says Fergus.
It puts the onus on the employee to consider whether they actually want to travel and to decide if a virtual meeting might be sufficient, she explains. “The whole point of it is to make people really think ‘why am I doing this?’ What's the value of the trip? How is it going to affect them mentally and physically? How is this going to affect their family?”
She continues: “When a booking is made, it’s then about providing them with the tools they need, the information they need, and asking them the questions to ensure they are properly prepared for travel.
“We provide them with the guidelines to help them decide if they want to take a trip, but then it’s about ensuring they have the tools to keep on top of that decision and track any changes in travel requirements. We need to make it seamless so they can carry that journey through themselves.”
Fergus adds that “a really good TMC supporting you as a gatekeeper and providing the right information at the point of sale” helps prevent travellers becoming over-reliant on the Fidelity travel team.
“There’s an element of hand-holding but then the onus is on the traveller to monitor the trip. Anyone who thinks they can just turn up at the airport now is going to have a very sorry experience when they arrive.”
Ten Steps Back to Travel was put together “mainly because of Covid” and the new complexities of travel, but as it progressed naturally saw wellbeing and diversity, equity and inclusion firmly embedded too, says Fergus.
“We make sure women travelling on their own or the LGBTQ community are provided with additional relevant information but it’s also asking all our people to be thoughtful travellers. We ask them to think about the countries they’re going to and consider what’s culturally acceptable.”
Like other corporates, Fidelity also sees the restart of travel as an opportunity to achieve new sustainability goals – primarily the halving of its carbon emissions from air travel. “We’re using 2019 as our baseline and we have incremental targets of cutting emissions by 20 per cent, 30 per cent and then 50 per cent by 2024, and that correlates more or less directly with our travel volumes.”
The company is also clamping down on one-day trips, promoting rail travel where practical, and looking at the composition of trips. “If you’re going to Asia, for example, do a network trip. Visit Singapore, China and Hong Kong in one trip and stay longer if that works for you. That supports emissions reduction targets but also helps manage costs too.”
Fergus is already witnessing some generational differences as business travel recovers. “Some people just aren’t ready to travel yet and some have decided it’s just not for them anymore after getting on and off planes for years,” she reports.
“I think the younger generation will need to be controlled a bit more. They get the sustainability piece and they’re great using technology, but they want to get out there and see the world. And I do believe they need to experience other countries and cultures in order to develop and to grow. I don't think we can talk about diversity, equity and inclusion without people experiencing different cultures and broadening their horizons. It’s about finding the balance between sustainability, wellbeing, cost and giving those individuals that experience.”
GETTING BACK ONLINE
Fidelity has recently rolled out Concur as its global booking tool and, as travel recovers, is aiming for 76 per cent of bookings being made through it within a year. “We’re not going to mandate it for the first six months. If they need to speak to the agents, they can continue to do that but we'll give everyone all the training,” says Fergus. “After six months, we believe most people should be well on their way to knowing how to use the tool. At that stage we will stop them from phoning the agents for point-to-point bookings. We'll hold their hands for the first six months whilst they get used to using it – building their templates, making sure all the profiles are up to date… all the stuff that they need to do to make it a really easy experience for them – but after that they're on their own.”