Next up in our Executive Q&A series is an interview with Christopherson’s Chief Consulting Officer, Matt Cameron. We sat down with Matt to get his thoughts on the travel industry entering “The Era of Purposeful Travel.” What is it and how do organizations implement it?
Q: Can you share your perspective on how companies and organizations reacted to what happened in the travel industry over the last year?
A: Traditionally, most organizations based their travel budget on the previous year’s budget, plus or minus a bit. If the organization was growing, then it made sense that the travel budget should also grow. If they were consolidating and cutting costs, then it made sense to tighten the travel budget up. Travel was viewed as a cost to be managed.
That status quo changed on March 11, 2020—the day that shocked the travel industry when international travel to Europe was halted by the US government in response to the growing concern over the COVID-19 virus. In an instant, leisure travel, business travel, and group travel came to a screeching halt. Nobody knew what the impact of the virus would be. Would people die? Would the economy be sent into an unrecoverable tail spin? Or would it all be over in a couple months? Amidst these concerns, organizations acted to protect their employees and their liquid assets. As we all experienced—employees were sent home to limit their exposure. All unnecessary costs were eliminated. And the world went into lockdown.
After the initial shock wore off, it became clear that some travel was still necessary. This was the start of what was dubbed “permissible travel.” There were still questions: Which governments would allow travel into their countries and if so, under what guidelines and restrictions? How would organizations manage the health risks and financial risks of sending their employees on business trips? Would employees even be willing to travel with all of the unknown risks and personal fears? Travel in 2020 was characterized by these shifting sands in the travel landscape.
Q: So after a year of permissible travel, what comes next?
A: It’s now been a year since COVID-19 changed the world. It’s also springtime, a season of new growth and opportunity. With this new season, I’d say we’re also entering a time that marks “the era of purposeful travel,” to use a term coined by Festive Road, an influential thought-leader in our industry.
“Purposeful travel” is the idea that all travel must have an ROI and relies on zero-based budgeting. Travel is an investment to be made to drive business results. Corporate travel programs need to be asking who, where, why, when, and how about their business travel. And every trip should support an organization’s objectives, drive strategic initiatives, build important relationships, or generate revenue and growth.
Q: How then, can companies and organizations make the shift to implementing purposeful travel?
Corporate travel managers should work with their leadership teams to consider several key questions: What is the best way to achieve our objectives? Will a video call suffice or would it be more powerful to meet in person? What is the level of influence needed to meet our objective? What is our competition doing and could we get a competitive edge by being in the room with the client or prospect? Who should be in the room, i.e. do we need the full team or could we be as effective with a smaller team? What is the most efficient way to get there—air, train, or car? Can we accomplish multiple objectives in one long trip or should we focus on shorter day trips?
All these elements and more should be considered as organizations think about aligning travel with business results and achieving more purposeful travel in 2021. Of course, Christopherson’s Account Managers are ready and available to help our clients explore the concepts of purposeful travel and successfully implement this idea.