8 best practices for defining a Covid-19 travel policy
Business must continue forward and travel will always be an enabler of that growth. Understandably, the Covid business travel environment feels different from what we were accustomed to in 2019. More knowledge of your travellers (e.g., where they are travelling, how much they are spending) will be even more critical to unlocking travel as an enabler of growth without feeling overwhelmed by the risks. More automation will enable better control and improve traveller safety without limiting their autonomy. Here are 8 best practices to consider when defining your organisation’s Coronavirus travel policy.
1. Align with your values
To start, align your travel policy’s values with those of your organisation. Be it empowerment, safety, frugality, eco-responsibility, or something else, be clear about what your travel policy is intended to achieve at the highest level. Then cross-check if this resonates with your company’s values. Check out our article on the 4 archetypes of travel policies for more on this.
⚠️ COVID-19 TIP: Care for travellers is now a central theme in most travel policies.
2. Use a single channel
Travel should be booked, as much as possible, via a fit-for-purpose single channel. Using one centralised source will allow you to easily access travel data across your organisation, provide additional insight, help track KPIs, and reinforce better travel behaviour (see point 8). If your booking channel also accepts centralised payments, billings, and invoices, this will have the added benefit of boosting productivity by cutting out a chunk of the time travellers spend filing trip expenses. If anything, focus on getting your largest spend items (flight, rail, hotel) through your single booking channel.
⚠️ COVID-19 TIP: Anticipate greater expectations on traveller management and duty of care in a post-Covid world; data will help you get there and having a single channel for travel booking will promote timely and accurate data capture.
3. Aim for simplicity
Although detailed and long travel policies might seem great on paper and are loved by the finance team, they don’t lead to buy-in across the organisation because they aren’t internalised. Definitely take the time to cover all your bases, but then take extra time to make it as short, simple, and as clear as possible. To further facilitate uptake, create a workable structure to the policy (e.g., clear statement of values, overview, booking tool, expenses, and flight, hotel, rail & car policies).
⚠️ COVID-19 TIP: Compliance is paramount during Covid times and is best enabled by communicating a simple, crisp, and modern policy. Travellers should be able to easily recall the salient parts of your Coronavirus travel policy otherwise the likelihood they follow it decreases exponentially.
4. Be smart about budgets
Budgeting based on class of service is outdated in a dynamically priced market environment. In order to maximise their profits, airlines have invested a lot of time and money to develop algorithms where prices change continuously. Depending on spot demand, sometimes business class can even be cheaper than premium economy. Instead, budget travel based on real-time market rates; this will ensure the best available option is selected at the time of booking and will reduce the miles-chasing fury that we often see in companies. Setting up such dynamic budgets ensures your travellers are making the best of spot prices, and not privileging their favourite airline(s).
⚠️ COVID-19 TIP: In the current economic crisis, budget control is paramount. Also, if a better class of service is available at a lower rate, let your teams book it. Travel will likely be much more complicated in the future so the perk will go a long way to improving morale and it will still save you money.
5. Avoid full-flex
You may be tempted to buy fully flexible tickets, thinking this will save you money in a highly uncertain travel environment. In fact, the premium for fully flexible tickets has historically been very high (on average >100% more expensive) and is likely to widen as demand increases. Our research shows that most travellers take advantage of the fully flexible option about 10% of the time; travellers would need to change over half their tickets for the economics to make sense. The solution is to privilege standard rates that are modifiable with a fee.
⚠️ COVID-19 TIP: Airlines will likely continue to offer vouchers, refunds, and free rebooking while the crisis persists, further emphasising a travel policy that privileges standard rates.
6. Automate your controls
It’s tempting to put tight controls in place and to reduce costs, for example by validating all bookings. This often leads to little or no additional benefit, as the number of validations per approver (e.g. travel manager, line manager) increases, scrutiny decreases. It also sets the wrong tone. Implement simple approval workflows that are designed to optimise for both cost and safety. Include a few key attributes in deciding whether a trip needs approval: travel motivation, advance booking days, geographic risk, and budget. This will empower your employees to take ownership of their travel without feeling like Big Brother is watching and save time for your approvers, further boosting productivity. A well-designed booking tool will help you easily set up, manage, and implement these workflows.
⚠️ COVID-19 TIP: The best Covid-19 travel policies will include geographic risk as a variable in automated validation workflows.
7. Get travellers to book in advance
One of the biggest drivers of savings on travel spend is advance bookings. The closer you get to the travel date, the more prices and price volatility increase. This applies to all big-ticket items: flights, trains, hotels, and rental cars, and we expect the last-minute premium to increase in a post-Covid world. Set up policies and workflows that encourage travellers to book as far in advance as possible.
⚠️ COVID-19 TIP: Advance bookings seem counter-intuitive in an environment where travel regulations seem uncertain, but price spikes will only worsen in a post-Covid world.
8. Lean on analytics
As previously mentioned, centralised data is going to be one of your best tools to effectively manage travel going forward, and more important than just having this data will be your ability to analyse and interpret it. Enforce analytics fields during bookings (e.g., project codes) to enable data manipulation and interpretation. Not only will this simplify expensing and accounting, but it will enable accurate real-time reporting on finance and duty of care. As was the case for validation workflows, a well-designed tool will allow you to seamlessly manipulate and visualise your data.
⚠️ COVID-19 TIP: Ensure your data and analytics tools allow quick and simple tracking of travellers whereabouts.
Wrapping it up
Articulating a new Covid travel policy might, at first, feel overwhelming. Determining how travel in your organisation should adapt in response to the Covid pandemic requires a nuanced approach that takes your travellers’ safety into account and balances cost-cutting and reducing travel spend with your company’s business requirements. Leveraging these 8 best practices should help you create a fit-for-purpose travel policy that speaks to your organisation’s values, helps you save on travel spend, and runs fluidly.
To help you set a base to an optimal travel policy, we've developed a Travel Policy Template you can use, free of charge !
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