In much of the dialogue around business travel, the industry speaks about choice, convenience and flexibility. Quite often, it seems that we forget that the ability to offer any of these benefits is completely undermined if we can't keep our travellers safe for the duration of their trip. The added improvements in travel are undoubtedly fantastic to have, but they must be underpinned by safety.
A recent study found that, shockingly, from the 53% of travellers that had been near a major event while travelling, 41% of those were not contacted by their company at all. That's simply not good enough and policies need to evolve in line with the threats faced.
Despite this, the messages emanating from travel management companies (TMCs) and travel decision makers haven't changed for years. In their role, they are acting as the guardians of travellers on behalf of clients, but there is still a fundamental issue that pervades almost all business travel — visibility. The issue of visibility is long-standing, but only seems to be getting worse as technology continues to provide new avenues for business travellers to book through. In terms of booking, more than two thirds of UK, French and German travellers admitted in our survey with GBTA to at least one booking still being made outside of official channels per year.
The vast majority of travellers understand that an out-of-policy booking may well impact their company's ability to provide duty of care. So, it's clear that this issue is only going to get worse as the personalisation and customisation of travel gets more sophisticated, meaning that TMCs need to keep pace with this — something that currently, they simply aren't doing.
To try and focus the duty of care debate, I've looked at two specific areas: domestic travel and cost saving, before exploring how data can underpin new ways of approaching these.
Don't neglect domestic travel
Within the conversations surrounding duty of care, it's easy to use international, air-based travel as the prime example — you can talk about different cultures, planes, ground transportation and differing laws when in a foreign country.
In fact, when the figures are compared, it's domestic travel that is undertaken far more often. It's not just extended trips but meetings on the other side of London or driving between two cities to discuss a potential deal that falls under this umbrella — and that need just as much attention. Take the employee of a business based in Manchester, who once a month drives up from London and back again. That's 4.5 hours long; as long as the maximum amount of uninterrupted driving that can be done in a UK goods vehicle.
Drivers in the goods industry have to take an uninterrupted 45-minute break before beginning to work again by law. But how often do you think that kind of ruling is enforced for traditionally office-based jobs? I would wager more often than not that the employee in question would be expected to make that drive, transition straight into the meeting or presentation that they are involved in, and then set off soon after to get home at a reasonable hour.
It may not be as eye-catching as overseas travel, but it can be just as dangerous. When this mileage data is submitted for expenses, it's the obligation of the travel manager and TMC to sit up and take notice of the length of the drive and propose an alternative.
Lowest fare doesn't always give value for money
Duty of care is predominantly about safety, but also encompasses health and wellbeing more generally. If, as a business, you have the ability to look at travel data and its wider impact on the business, you can make sensible choices around this. If you don't, then quite simply, you can't.
I've seen a buyer previously link travel and HR data, which gave them incredibly powerful insights. They realised that if they paid to put regular travellers into business class, the company actually saved money over the financial year, as those travellers averaged three days less of illness.
Business travel should be a value-add, rather than just a cost centre. So, by paying the extra for a traveller to be able to work on the go, catch up on some sleep, or simply not having to worry about getting to the destination themselves, businesses can prosper.
Data or dud
Clearly, the entire crux of the issue is data. Without this, there is no chance that a comprehensive and accurate duty of care policy can be enforced.
This is where travel managers also need to stand up and take some responsibility. Only they, as an internal resource, can grant access to the necessary data for TMCs to use. If this transfer of data access doesn't take place, then in effect the TMC is flying blind without the full resources available to help track and protect business travellers.
The conversation needs to move on from simply forwarding on flight bookings and hotel reservations to the TMC too — there are now dozens of data points that can be combined to give the full picture of both travel and accommodation to the relevant people. This is where ground transportation companies that are run through apps are a great alternative to traditional taxis. TMCs should be pushing their use as there is technology available to track those parts of the journey with the likes of Uber and Lyft, ensuring that the black spots between the airport and hotel check-in are eliminated. Meeting diaries, calendar appointments and corporate card use should all have their data captured. This, when combined, provides a comprehensive overview of a traveller's movements and location against their schedule.
The 'Big Brother' debate
I've heard this many times but the answer remains clear: if business is to be conducted in a dangerous region, then travellers need to allow themselves to be tracked. If they can't allow this, then they shouldn't be undertaking business in those areas.
But for those with more general concerns, we have a fantastic barometer of data usage coming into effect in the form of the GDPR. This wide-ranging and powerful legislation should be looked to as a guide for both the traveller and those looking to provide duty of care for them.
Travel data is, by its very nature, highly sensitive. Home addresses, passport information, payment details; these are all pieces of data that need to be carefully stored and managed. Once this change arrives, companies will need to ensure that their travellers opt in and are aware of their legal data rights. Done properly, this will empower travellers to own and apply this data, safe in the knowledge that GDPR is ensuring those entrusted with it are doing the right thing.
The industry, as are many others, is feeling defensive about GDPR. However, the regulation should be viewed in a positive light, as something that will clarify the processes and reach of duty of care, ensuring both travellers and their organisations are aligned and on the same page.
No more excuses
It's clear there are many different facets to duty of care that need to be considered. But when it's broken down, the overall message remains the same: you need to keep your travellers healthy and safe with visibility across their trip and a clear way to contact them for emergencies. Travel managers and TMCs need to be collaborating on an open and GDPR-compliant data policy to underpin this.
Remember, duty of care should be approached on a human level, not just as a law to abide. Protect your travellers, make sure they look forward to — rather than dread — travelling for business and you will reap the rewards.