4 ways to enhance traveler satisfaction and boost productivity
As the economy continues to rebound and competition for talent heats up, more companies are realizing that business travel policies can have a significant impact on their ability to recruit and retain employees, and on employee productivity.
“Travel managers and senior executives need to walk over to HR and have a discussion about talent,” said Scott Gillespie, CEO at tClara, a firm that helps companies analyze and benchmark travel data. “They need to ask: ‘How are we doing with hiring and retaining top talent? What are we facing, especially for positions that require a lot of travel?’ Then, they need to consider how they can tie a more traveler-focused travel policy into employee satisfaction.”
Here are a few guidelines from managed travel experts and your colleagues on how to make the connection.
1. Review your travel policy goals from the perspective of traveler satisfaction
“Anyone managing travel needs to ask themselves, ‘What is our overall company goal?’” said Jeanne Liu, Vice President of Research at the Global Business Travel Association. “If you’re in an industry where the competition for talent is high, and retention is important, you should review your travel policy to see if you are sufficiently focused on traveler satisfaction.”
That review process should incorporate shifting demographics and travel preferences. As every travel manager knows, millennials are on the forefront of adopting and advocating for sharing economy travel providers for business travel, and by 2020 they will make up close to half the U.S. workforce.
According to Erica Arnold, a vice president at HVS Executive Search, as more millennials advance to executive positions over the next few years, sharing economy accommodation providers will become embedded in travel policies because those providers reflect their personal and professional values. When companies offer Airbnb for Work as an option for their business travelers now, Arnold said, “it shows they are on trend, they are thinking about the whole person.”
2. Check in with your travelers
Experts advise travel managers to regularly check in with employees to see how business travel is affecting their productivity and job satisfaction.
“It’s important hearing from employees about what makes them comfortable so they have a productive trip,” said Brandon Gries, Travel and Event Coordinator for Hudl, a software company that provides online tools for coaches and athletes. “I’m a frequent traveler myself, but the way I do things isn’t the same way a lot of our employees do them. We want to make sure they don’t have a bad experience, because that’s going to affect their work.”
3. Show special consideration to road warriors
Consider the link between travel options for road warriors and job satisfaction, as frequent travelers are often part of a sales or product introduction team that is directly responsible for generating revenue and securing new clients.
According to data in Traveler Friction: Insights from U.S. Road Warriors, a 2016 research study conducted by MMGY Global and co-sponsored by ARC, American Express Global Business Travel, and tClara, frequent travelers in “cost-focused” travel programs reported twice as much friction with accomplishing their business goals compared with travelers employed at companies with more “traveler-focused” policies.
If there is something a company can do to make a road warrior more comfortable, that will help them attract and retain talent.
The survey-based study also indicated a link between road warrior satisfaction with company travel policy and their desire to stay with, or leave, their current employer. Of the respondents in cost-focused travel programs, 84 percent said they would be interested in a job from a different firm that requires similar travel levels if it offers “a very attractive travel policy.”
Arnold at HVS said she is hearing more from hiring managers and job candidates that a requirement for extensive business travel—and company policies around that—are becoming a bigger factor in filling open roles. “The issue becomes more acute for an employee starting a family,” she said. “If a job requires 30 to 40 percent travel, a lot of people will say, ‘I can’t do that.’ If there is something a company can do to make a road warrior more comfortable, that will help them attract and retain talent.”
At Sykes, a global business process outsourcing firm, “Upper management pays attention to road warrior morale,” said Al Mazzola, Director of Global Finance and Travel Services. “We know, especially for our long-haul trips to places like Australia and the Philippines, that we have to take into consideration productivity and maybe compromise on some things.”
For example, Sykes will allow travelers to arrive a day early on a business trip of seven to 10 days so they have time off after they arrive to recuperate from the flight, settle into the destination where they will be working, and wander about. “We know when you are gone that long from your home, your family, that having some downtime will relieve some of the homesickness and prepare you for the work ahead,” Mazzola said.
4. Make sure your preferred accommodation suppliers can support travelers on longer business trips
An accommodation option like Airbnb is ideally suited to business trips that extend for more than a few days, offering all the comforts of home along with more space and flexibility.
Mazzola has found that additional space is “the number one thing” travelers at Sykes want on longer business trips. “Travelers do not like being cooped up in one or two rooms, especially when it is a long-term engagement—four days or more,” he said. “The second thing they want is flexibility. Having a full kitchen lets a traveler shop at the local grocery store for meals, and then flop down on the couch after a long day to turn on the TV and have a relaxing dinner.”
That makes Airbnb a win-win for the traveler and the company, Mazzola added: “Not dining out three times a day on the road means real cost savings for us.”
Travel Managers need to consider how they can tie a more traveler-focused travel policy into employee satisfaction.
Along with the opportunity to make a home-cooked meal, travelers who stay in an Airbnb home get a chance to experience something different from a standard hotel room.
“Sometimes I’ll get a quick email from someone saying, ‘Thanks for doing this. I was tired of staying at X Hotel and I wanted to prepare my own meal,’” said Mark Papale, Manager of Global Travel Operations for Autodesk, a 3D design, engineering, and entertainment software developer. “Using Airbnb for Work has been great because it’s actually helped drive down costs and created more satisfaction with our employees.”
HVS’ Arnold noted that staying in an Airbnb on a longer business trip can boost traveler satisfaction by providing the opportunity for family time: “If I’m from Minneapolis and I’m working in Newport Beach, maybe I call my husband and say, ‘Let’s have a mini-vacation. Bring the kids out and I can come home at night after work and feel like I am home.’”
For team travel around conferences, Payable has found that staying together in an Airbnb has yielded a “drastically different experience” for employees and the company than a hotel stay.
“Instead of at the end of the night where we are all in separate rooms, we’re all in this same place as a family,” said Tad Milbourn, former CEO, co-founder, and de facto travel coordinator for Payable, an eight-person company that provided payment services for contract workers and was purchased by Stripe in July 2017. “And that leads to a different sort of collaboration, a different sort of bonding, that’s more productive for the company, more productive for our relationships as colleagues.”
As research and anecdotal experiences from travel managers illustrate, companies that increase their focus on enhancing traveler satisfaction and well-being experience significant benefits in the form of increased productivity, employee happiness, and the ability to retain and recruit top talent.