With business travel at a crawl during Covid-19, it’s the perfect time to evaluate your travel program and think about a reset if it’s not generating sufficient returns on your investment. As companies return to travel, the goal should be to maximize travel program productivity. To achieve this, you need to increase the output (business value) as a percentage of the input (travel costs). 

Improving productivity will require a close look at costs and value. Corporate personnel typically have minimal insight into airline tickets that go unused and pay additional charges for basic functions like ticket changes, tracking travelers or after-hours support. Those are all potentially unnecessary costs that companies are incurring, which adds to the input. 

On the other side of the equation, most companies don’t pay enough attention to employee satisfaction with the travel program and its impact on productivity. Travelers who are treated like valued employees and provided with services that allow them to complete their trips with minimal friction are more focused and productive on the trip, delivering additional value, which increases the output. 

The pause in business travel is a great time to create a productivity-focused travel program that addresses both sides of the productivity equation. Here are five tips that can help you maximize the productivity of your travel program.

1. Track the success of each trip and convert certain trips to video calls. As companies return to travel, they should make sure the trips they take are the ones most likely to drive value—and leave others to videoconferencing. Videoconferencing has been a strong substitute for travel, but there will be certain trips that will be much more successful in-person than through video. It’s a good idea to evaluate past trips in terms of productivity by type, ranking them on a 1 to 5 scale from most successful to least successful. The lower-ranked trips can be replaced by video calls, and the higher-ranked trips should be added to the travel budget when it’s safe to resume travel. Then, through a post-trip survey, have the traveler rank the success of the trip so the company can continue to get feedback on which trips to travel for and which trips are better handled via video. 

2. Measure traveler satisfaction. The more energized a traveler is when traveling, the more productive they will be. Travelers should be treated as people and not line items on an expense report. Is there really a need to take a red-eye flight to meet with a customer the next morning? If you want them to work while on the flight, then pay more for them to have room to work. If they need to get to the airport hours before their flight for screening, have them wait in an airline club. And if disruptions occur while they are on the road, make sure they have access to assistance 24/7. Giving travelers the comfort of both some breathing room and support will reduce their stress and maximize performance when traveling. Afterward, measure the traveler’s satisfaction by sending out a standard survey and posting the results to a reporting dashboard. 

3. Simplify to a monthly subscription fee for travel. Most travel programs today pay a fee per transaction, and there are multiple transactions in every trip. There is the booking fee, a change fee, an after-hours fee, a fee for an international booking, and the list goes on and on. The more the company travels, the more it will pay in fees. In a subscription-fee model, you pay one fee for access to services. Typically, the more trips a company takes, the less it costs per trip. It’s a simpler process with predictable charges, so it enhances productivity.

4. Track and encourage use of unused tickets through the booking process. Companies are holding onto a staggering amount of unused airline tickets right now due to the pandemic. Unused tickets historically have been difficult to track, but to improve productivity, companies need to find a way to centralize tracking and remind travelers of the credits they have so they can apply them before the credits expire. A reporting system that routinely summarizes unused ticket totals and expiration dates for travel managers is ideal to realize maximum productivity gains.

5. Lower risk through new safety measures. Employee safety is always a concern, but keeping travelers safe is more important than ever with ongoing coronavirus outbreaks. To boost productivity by providing peace of mind for traveling employees, companies should monitor outbreaks and block travel to affected regions. They should have the ability to identify Covid-19 safe accommodations that meet cleaning standards. It’s also imperative to be able to provide travelers with timely updates in case conditions change and to be able to reach travelers as needed. 

Whether you choose to find a partner in the travel industry to help you improve productivity or go it alone in-house, keep these five tips in mind. Budgets are tight with the business uncertainty caused by the pandemic, so it’s important to maximize the productivity of your travel program. It’s a simple matter of reducing costs (input) and increasing value (output).

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