Reimagining business travel, without all the baggageJanuary 23, 2024 | By Chad Wallace
Since travel came to a screeching halt in March 2020, many have predicted that business travel might never recover, given the advances of video conferencing and the embrace of work from home policies.
But global business travel spending is expected to surpass 2019 levels this year, according to the Global Business Travel Association’s Business Travel Index released in August — that's two years sooner than GBTA was forecasting the previous year. A Mastercard survey of travel decision-makers, also released in August, found that nine out of 10 believe business travel is still critical for driving growth, and more than half expect to spend more than $1 billion on travel in 2025, up from 11% pre-pandemic.
That’s music to the ears of airlines and convention hotels, but technological advances, changing expectations and new pressures have also altered the business travel landscape in ways that may ease the journey for road warriors and frequent flyers – and the corporate teams who manage their travel. Here are five trends shaping business travel in 2024.
'Bleisure' is here to stay
Remote work is here to stay, and some companies have even instituted “work from anywhere” benefits, giving employees the opportunity to stretch out vacations abroad or visits to family. It also means corporate travelers can extend business trips by a few days, giving them a chance to explore more than just the convention hall or hotel amenities. The days of two-day international business trips may soon be in the rear-view mirror, as employees enjoy the perks of flexible office policies. But a distributed workforce can create new challenges when it comes to monitoring spending — a person working from home might have different expenses than a traditional office worker, like buying subscriptions, office furniture and computer equipment, which can make it more difficult for companies to predict and account for spending.
Business travel, consumer experience
For companies, combining business and travel is not always smooth sailing — managing expenses and reimbursements can get complicated. And for employees, the ease of paying with a tap or a click in their daily lives is missing from travel and entertainment payments, as anyone who labored over an expense report can attest. That’s why many companies are moving to virtual cards for travel expenses. These cards are created instantly for specific purposes — a business trip, a client dinner at a conference, travel arrangements for a promising recruit — with customized spend controls, such as the amount, time period and type of purchase where the cards can be used, producing detailed data for tracking, reporting and automated reconciliation. They can even be issued directly to mobile wallets, creating contactless travel experiences.
These heightened consumer expectations could also make companies expand the benefits on their commercial and corporate T&E cards — better travel insurance, concierge support, telemedicine offerings and access to airport lounges, for example.
AI at your service
Another extension of the “consumerization” of business travel? The AI tools taking hold in the leisure travel sector, including virtual travel agents that can customize itineraries and lock in low fares, are likely to make waves in corporate travel as well. These bots can tailor travel based on T&E policy, budget and employee preferences. And with the cost of business travel rising – CWT’s Global Business Travel Forecast for 2024 shows a 3% rise in average cost per attendee per day for meetings and events, and a 3.6% increase in hotel rates — corporate travel teams can use AI for better price predictions, more proactively managing their budgets. It can also help these teams build more dynamic policies and even adjust spending limits by analyzing past spend on a much more granular level. AI tools can simplify the arduous expense report process for both employees and finance teams by automating the capture and review of repetitive and predictable expenses. Nine in 10 travel decision-makers plan on investing in AI and machine learning to improve processes and personalize travel for their employees, according to the Mastercard survey.
Tracking the impact of travel
Many corporations are making concerted efforts to lower their carbon footprint. Nine in 10 travel decision-makers in Mastercard’s survey said they are more focused on tracking environmental, social and governance efforts — greenhouse gas emissions from company travel, for example. Carbon emissions tracking tools that show carbon footprint of business trips and seat selections can drive more environmentally conscious travel decisions. With sustainability at the top of corporate agendas, we can expect companies to seek out ways to help them achieve their sustainability goals. Mastercard’s T&E Consulting Services, for example, helps corporations re-evaluate their T&E policies and procedures, assess supplier performance and improve for the future.
The rise of the chief travel officer
At many organizations, the responsibility for corporate travel is split between human resources, finance, procurement, technology and even security teams. Even if they’re using the same tools and platforms, there’s often a disconnect when it comes to long-term strategy and decision-making. As business travel becomes more automated, larger companies may benefit from a chief travel officer — someone who can work across the organization to streamline processes, discover efficiencies and make the most of these emerging tools, enterprise solutions and corporate card benefits, including travel risk management services, concierge support and telemedicine offerings.
The resurgence of business travel illustrates the enduring value of in-person interactions — the building of relationships, the sparking of innovation, the deepening of trust that comes from sitting across the table or sharing a meal. Technology may have enabled the rise of virtual work, but technology is also making business travel smarter and more seamless than ever before.
This month, the Mastercard Newsroom is exploring how rapidly evolving technology, heightened consumer expectations and economic and societal pressures are changing how we live, work, shop and innovate.
- The future of business travel