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Amex GBT’s CEO writes about business travel changing

Posted: 27 April 2022
Headshot of Paul Abbot, American Express Global Business Travel CEO

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Business Travel Is Changing And Is More Important Than Ever, Writes Amex GBT’s CEO

Paul Abbott, CEO of American Express Global Business Travel, submitted the following guest column to The Beat on travel's role in fostering corporate culture amid a changing workplace and a forecast of change in the business travel industry.

In this post, you’ll find out how:

Business Travel News

In spring 2020, the skies emptied. Travel all but stopped as the world locked down. Some predicted an end to business travel. Two years on, we now know we were seeing the opposite. The coronavirus pandemic was the start of a new era—one in which travel is more important to businesses than ever before. In an era of flexible work, travel is how companies build business culture. And business culture is how they succeed.

For two years, we have witnessed the effects of restricted movement on the workplace. A perfect storm of enforced homeworking, distributed teams and high attrition rates have forced businesses to review real-estate policies while scrambling to build new, engaging work environments to entice people back to the office.

There is no easy fix or post-pandemic reprieve—the world of work has changed. Research firm Gartner predicts companies could lose a sizeable portion of their most knowledgeable workers if they mandate a return to full-time, office-based work. Figures from the UK's Office of National Statistics show online job adverts including terms associated with "homeworking" tripled between 2020 and 2021.

These trends flow from a power shift toward workers. In his annual letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote that shortages in the labour market are empowering workers to demand higher wages and more flexibility.

This new-found flexibility can be good for the economy and society. Liberation from commutes and offices mean corporate workers of tomorrow no longer need to cluster in urban centres. It will become easier to achieve a better work-life balance, which means more motivated, productive colleagues.

The Office Used To Drive Business Culture. Now It Will Be Travel

But these benefits have a cost. Historically, companies have invested huge sums in creating collaborative, engaging and stimulating work environments. They did so, because they knew great companies have great business cultures. Culture breeds creativity and innovation. It helps build fulfilling relationships—a vital part of feeling driven and engaged at work.

Today's companies can't afford to give up on business culture. Yet the place where it has historically been formed—the office—is no longer the main setting for work. Gone are the days when you could fly to a destination, go to an office and expect everyone to be there. Today, in-person contact with colleagues requires careful planning and coordination: every business trip will be an event.

Business travel is therefore taking on a new role as the catalyst for business culture. Travel trends for weekly, monthly or quarterly get-togethers will be the means by which employees bond, collaborate and innovate while building internal partnerships. The line between business travel and meetings will disappear as the breeding ground for business culture shifts away from the office towards regular coordinated travel.

Less Commuting Means More Business Travel

The decline of commuting will fuel growth in business travel recovery. I'm not alone in this view. Zoom recently invested in American Express Global Business Travel and hailed a future of "innovative, engaging virtual, face-to-face and hybrid meeting and event experiences." Rather than stifling business travel, videoconferencing and webinars are already a stimulant for meeting in person. Industry insiders are also optimistic. Our own research last year found that seven out of 10 corporate travel decision-makers believe more remote work will lead to a more dispersed workforce and more business travel.

We are already seeing this across our client base. Salesforce is a prime example. Concerned about the impact of virtual work on business culture, the software company moved quickly to organise regular events in a variety of locations to bring colleagues together. Leadership teams have also committed to monthly in-person meetings. We have seen similar actions being taken in other companies.

For travel managers, this means an expanded remit and higher purpose. They will be the new custodians of corporate culture, helping colleagues gather and succeed. Their relationships with HR, recruitment and facilities management will become closer. Internal travel bookings, once the first line item to face CFO scrutiny, is forecast to become a strategic investment in people, while external travel will remain a true differentiator for successful organisations.

There is also a sustainability benefit to this shift. As companies embrace flexible working, emissions from commuting will reduce significantly. Although there will be an increased need for regular coordinated business travel, companies should measure their entire travel carbon footprint, including commuting.

A Trusted Guide In An Uncertain World

While very few people doubt the value of face-to-face meetings, we can't lose sight of ongoing safety concerns. In an atmosphere of uncertainty, it is essential we continue to do all we can to restore traveller confidence. Where there are new standards of safety, we must rise to these. Where travel is more complex, we must be a trusted guide on everything from shifting mask mandates and introductions of new restrictions. Every trip must be treated like an event to ensure the support given to travellers is truly an end-to-end experience. We cannot simply assert that travel is safe or enjoyable. The travel industry must set the standard through its actions and service provision.

Today's successful businesses must be more flexible, inclusive and responsible than ever before. The pressure to adapt is intense. But thinking more and thinking differently about the movement of people will help organisations rise to the challenge. Technology enables workforce flexibility, but it's business travel and meeting in person that makes it function and thrive. Corporate travel management can make companies more sustainable and inclusive as well as turning dispersed groups of people into unified teams. In essence, business travel can create business culture. Companies who realise this will take flight. Those who don't will be left behind.

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