Business travel managers are seeing a shift in approval processes and use of online bookings tools following a significant increase in demand for UK and US domestic business travel, according to the Institute of Travel Management (ITM) the UK & Ireland’s leading professional association those responsible for their organisation’s business travel requirements.
A straw poll of 30 global, EMEA and UK travel managers who attended ITM’s latest Buyer Knowledge Exchange revealed that additional layers of c-suite approval, implemented during the pandemic for domestic travel, are being removed and approvals are reverting to local market line-manager level. Online booking tools (OBTs) have also been switched on again for most domestic bookings.
However, OBTs remain switched off for international travel bookings and senior executive approval is still in place. Travel managers also reported that although enquiries for international trips are steadily increasing, some business travellers are deterred from booking when they realise the complexities of quarantine restrictions, COVID testing and vaccination requirements, as well as intra-EU travel and immigration regulations.
Travel managers taking part in the poll represented diverse industry sectors such as financial services, technology, engineering, consulting, entertainment, food, and government services. A key challenge, they revealed, is how to educate travellers and bookers regarding the return of business travel. This includes booking trips in advance due to COVID complexities and arranging itineraries to maximise time in a destination to support both testing requirements and sustainability initiatives. Buyers are also striving to keep messaging simple for travellers in terms of approval levels and whether to book online or offline by market.
In addition, corporate travel buyers expressed the need to manage their travel bookers’ expectations around response times for offline enquiries, whilst travel management companies (TMC) adjust to staff returning from furlough and rebuild their operations post-pandemic.
Scott Davies, CEO, ITM commented: “It’s encouraging to hear the sentiment among ITM’s business travel manager community that domestic travel is ‘back’ – albeit not at pre-COVID levels, but there is definitely a lot more movement particularly in the UK and USA. However, there are still a lot of challenges around international travel, in particular managing travellers’ expectations that they can no longer just jump on a plane and that trips need careful planning well in advance. Although the UK government’s announcement that fully vaccinated European and US travellers can enter England without quarantine is positive news, there are still so many other layers of complexity and logistics to consider before a trip can go ahead.
“Corporate travel managers are also conscious of the severe impact that the pandemic has had on their TMC’s business and staff levels. Our buyer members are therefore working closely with their TMCs to adapt to these changes as business travel returns and manage their travellers’ and bookers’ expectations that it’s not yet business as usual,” said Davies.