In 2016, I heard of an experienced sales director running his company’s South African operations while traveling back and forth from that country and his home base in the U.K. After planning what had become a routine trip to visit the company’s people in South Africa, it suddenly dawned on him that he had hit his limit of days in the country for the year. If he stepped foot in the country again, he and his company would face local tax implications.
It’s not just for business travel that visitation limits can cause problems. I’ve also heard of colleagues booking family holidays to countries they’ve visited that same year for work, only to be turned away at the gate for overstaying their welcome. At that point, the travelers had to decide whether to cancel their trips or watch their families go on without them.
The Changing Face of Visas
Visas form a clear example of the underpinning details that need to be correct for successful business travel programs. The issues are often closer to home than we think and, owing to geopolitics, becoming more and more complex to track. From the U.S.’s restrictions on travel from certain countries to Brexit and the cooling of relations between the U.K. and Russia, trips that even a few years ago would have been easy are increasing in difficulty.
The implications of falling foul of visa and visiting regulations can also be far greater than first imagined. There might be fines for both the individual and the company—official or ‘unofficial,’ depending on the policing of the country—and bans ranging from months to a lifetime. A whole new layer of difficulty arrives if people are found to have broken the rules inadvertently while trying to leave the country. Lose your visa or accidently overstay your time in Russia? Good luck catching that flight back home!
Capturing the Details
Balancing issues from monetary to duty of care is vital. Two points need to be carefully considered to keep your travelers safe and your business running efficiently: the ecosystem of your technology provider and its application programming interfaces. There isn’t a company in the world that can be an expert in all the areas a company needs to manage for business travel. But companies can partner with or invest in others that are true experts in particular areas.
These benefits, once they are integrated into the ecosystem of the provider, can be used by clients. Just as important, however, is the flow of data between various partners and tools. If data is siloed, the real value of the various technologies working in alignment is lost. But if data from bookings, for example, populates apps to track visa limits, duty of care requirements, budget levels and pertinent financial information for different countries, the solution is far more powerful than the sum of each tool working in isolation.
VAT, Tax & Immigration Automation
Another opportunity for technology that’s integrated well is VAT reclamation: 4 percent of global travel spend that can be reclaimed is not, a figure reaching the billions. For companies that have staff and travelers in several countries, manually tracking this money and other pertinent financial information like taxes is a tough ask. As a myriad of paperwork in different languages faces overstretched finance teams, it’s easy to see why these values are often left behind.
But integrations can help. One between SAP Concur and EY shares data as trips are booked so they can be analyzed against financial and immigration information ahead of time—think: the warning on your phone when you are nearing your data limit but for travel levels instead. For VAT, Taxback International, VAT IT and VAT Box also can integrate. Via connected ecosystems, the process can be completely automated and the money deposited back into your account. VAT is a clear example of this, but the technology can be applied to different areas of business travel.
Tech as an Enabler
It’s an exciting time to be working in this space, as technology is fast leveling the playing field. Hosted, cloud-based solutions mean sophisticated technologies that previously would have been available only to sizable enterprises now can be accessed by all, so there are no excuses not to improve business travel processes. Most trips that end in disaster do so not because of major incidents or crime but due to dropped visas or missing receipts or an assumption that the details will look after themselves. The message is clear: They won’t, but connected ecosystems can look after them for you.