2015 Business Travel: What to Expect

Business travel is re-emerging after a long period of decline, but it has been subjected to serious disruption as new technologies have changed how people travel, and how they work while travelling.

It’s also fair to say that travel managers have struggled to keep up with these trends, as many companies having outdated travel policies that neither reflect how modern people travel, nor how technology has made business more mobile. With technology expected to prove even more disruptive in the years ahead, 2015 will be a year in which businesses and travel managers work to modernise their policies to account for the technology disruption.

What happened in 2014

In 2014 we started to see business travel start to rebound from the lows of 2013 and years before it. It became easier to travel internationally, with many nations relaxing entry requirements, and emergent nations such as Brazil, China and India attracting more investment, which resulted in increased travel to those locations. In fact, China overtook the US to become the world’s largest economy in 2014, and now attracts more business travel spend in turn.

We watched the consumerisation of technology become a major factor in business travel. People now carry multiple devices with them on to planes, and being able to charge smart phones, tablets and laptops in transit is becoming an important service in business class across many airlines. In-flight WiFi also became an in-demand service which, while costly on many airlines, was seen as a valuable new service. And hotels, which would once offer expensive wired Internet, are now finding it mandatory to offer cost effective (if not free) WiFi that any device can access.

We also saw peer to peer sharing services really start to take off across the world. Airbnb, Uber, and others have moved from being spunky tech upstarts to having a global pull, and while there were some residual concerns from a safety and security point of view, as the year wore on we started to see those concerns ease.

Additionally, the world experienced the continued rise of low cost carriers, or LCCs, particularly in places like South America and the Asia Pacific region. There is also increased consolidation in airlines across the globe, which is affecting prices as people are flying on fewer independent airlines.

These were a few interesting travel statistics we discovered about 2014:

The majority of annual travel was for leisure, with business responsible for 30% or less of all trips.

54% of travellers that take a trip where they combine business and leisure bring a family member or significant other with them.

A mobile professional device is taken on holiday or weekend trips by 43% of international travellers.

Key predictions for 2015

The first key prediction for the year ahead is that the price of travel will increase, but it won’t be by much. Air travel will remain mostly flat throughout Asia Pacific, with an average increase of price of just 0.5%. But on the other end of the spectrum, we can expect that both North and South America will increase in price by 2.5% and 3.5%, respectively.

While these price increases will not be significant for individual flights, travel managers at organisations still pay attention to their travel policies, and look to improve efficiencies where possible.

Secondly, organisations will need to understand that mobile and self service bookings will play a greater role than ever. Studies have found that as many as 70% corporate travellers consider their mobile phones and tablets to be a key booking channel. This in turn means that travel managers will need to ensure that the travel policies are flexible enough to allow self service bookings.

In line with the increased demand for self service bookings, travel managers will also want to make sure the business’ travel policies are able to handle an increased demand for younger employees and executives to control their own travel. Millennials like to use peer-to-peer services such as Airbnb, and like to shop around for their preferred airline and travel perks. Many businesses have been slow to adopt policies to account for these disruptive tech-based services, but we can expect to see that start to change throughout 2015.

Professionals are also spending more time at airports. With free WiFi and power charging stations, people are being more productive while they wait for planes. And, while many appreciate that they aren’t connected while in the air (giving them some important personal time), airlines are increasingly offering WiFi services, meaning it is possible to work in transit. Organisations in turn are finding it increasingly important to enable these employees access to the work network while mobile so that they can check in, work on documents, and catch up on emails.

There is now even a trend for business travellers to wrap some personal time in to their overseas trips. According to a survey by Skift, 83% of professionals take time to explore cities that they visit on work trips. A further 60% add personal vacation days to their trips. However, among professionals, there is a lot of uncertainty about policies around leisure activities during business trips, with only 14% saying they were aware of their business’ policy. In 2015 travel managers will need to clearly articulate what the policies will be around leisure on business, and develop a policy covering it if it doesn’t already exist.

A final key trend that will start to take hold in 2015 is the idea that travel compliance will be driven through engagement, rather than punishment. As mentioned above, there are plenty of people who don’t even realise the specifics of their organisation’s travel policies. Rather than hanging threats of punitive action over their head, however, travel managers will start to encourage good behaviours through gamification techniques and similar. Travel managers will use contests and points systems to encourage compliant behaviour from the staff.

94% of travellers who are younger say they are either ‘more than’ or ‘equally likely’ to take a combined business/leisure trip in the next 5 years.

39% of online travel revenue comes from hotel reservations.

Air travel is expected to increase in price by an average 2.2% globally.

The private jet – the future of business travel?

One of the most exciting developments of all in business travel for 2015 is the increased use of private jets. With the prices of these aircraft charters becoming ever more convenient, 2015 will see more and more business customers make use of the advantages that private jets offer.

Most importantly, perhaps, private jets allow customers to slip lines. Business jet terminals are free of security lines, and custom designed to get the business professional through and out of the terminal as quickly as possible.

Additionally, the modern private jet is specifically designed to facilitate productivity in the air. In-flight WiFi, work states and power outlets are more convenient and part of the service, rather than being expensive add-ons for commercial airlines. They’re more comfortable working environments, too, with passengers not squished into seats with too-little leg room. Business travellers in 2015 will come to appreciate the ability to have a comfortable office space in the sky, as they are expected to be connected 24/7.

A final benefit for the private jet that will become a major boon through 2015 will be the flexibility in terms of destination and timing. In a globalised world, business professionals are increasingly finding themselves in need of accessing remote areas. The most convenient way to do this is through a chartered flight, where the business will be better able to control the timing of departure and the timing of the return flight.

Business travel is going to become more exciting, dynamic, and flexible than it was ever before. This will give travel managers a host of new challenges to work through, from policy through technology, but the end result will be a more mobile and productive workforce than ever before, and that will make the travel manager one of the heroes of the organisation over the next year or two.