BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
While travel can be vital for business, it should be used both sparingly and wisely.
The tussling over which UK airport to expand is a distraction from whether or not Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission is actually asking the right questions.
What would show greater imagination and ambition would be for the commission to recognise that, in the 21st century, businesses will eventually decouple travel from growth.
Travel can be a vital component for most businesses, but it’s not an end in itself. Productivity and output are the true measures of success, so these need to be central to decisions – not only for the Davies Commission but also for decision-makers inside organisations choosing when and how to travel.
The Chancellor’s announcement in the recent Budget to reduce long-haul Air Passenger Duty (APD) is based on the assumption that businesses both want, and need, to fly. Those who regularly travel on business know that the excitement of jet-setting can soon wear off and actually interfere with, rather than aid, productivity.
The One in Five Challenge is a scheme, led by WWF and taken over by Global Action Plan (GAP) in January, to encourage companies to commit to cutting 20% of their business flights within five years. Evidence from businesses taking part in this scheme demonstrates that business growth and increased travel do not go hand-in-hand. Reducing the number of flights taken by employees can benefit businesses looking to limit their environmental impact, cut costs, increase productivity and help their bottom line.
Over the last four years of the One in Five programme, 13 participants have achieved their targets, including BT, Lloyds TSB and Vodafone UK. In the third year of the programme, each company involved had reduced their flights by an average of 38 per cent, leading to average yearly savings of £2 million and 3,000 tonnes of CO2.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, two of the successful One in Five Challengers are telecommunications companies. They understand how to maximise the use of state-of-the-art technology to replace travel where appropriate, making their businesses more efficient and productive.
BT was the first to complete the challenge. Using audio, video and web-conferencing as a key solution to reduce the need to travel, BT reported an increase in productivity and an improved work life balance for employees. Vodafone UK cut flights by 26 per cent in a single year by ensuring that employees can communicate with each other through video-conferencing, instant messaging and web collaboration software.
A key factor in reducing flights is changing organisational culture. For example, air travel is often considered prestigious – the more important you are the more the company will spend on your travel – but successful One in Five Challengers have turned this conventional ‘truth’ on its head, by instilling an understanding that the more valuable your time, the less you should spend on a plane or sitting in traffic.
GAP’s recent rail report, Changing Gear: Taking Business Travel into the 21st Century, emphasises the importance of business understanding the full costs of travel choices. Compare a journey from London to Glasgow, including transfers and connections, in terms of productivity – end-to-end, the journey may take 30 per cent longer by train rather than plane.
However, on the train, the worker can spend the majority of the journey with access to a phone signal and wifi, with approximately 90 per cent productivity. The same journey by aeroplane requires the passenger to turn off all connectivity on devices during the flight, so the journey end-to-end is only 50 per cent productive. Accounting for productivity, the train may be more cost- and time-effective.
We should welcome growing signs of a shift in business travel behaviour and encourage businesses to look at the most effective way to conduct business. The Davies Commission should reframe their focus and consider overall productivity, rather than assume that travel is necessary for growth.