COVID-19 and its implications: Is business travel now becoming more sustainable?

COVID-19 and its aftermath: Is business travel now becoming more sustainable?

Opinions among experts are clear: The majority of business travel decision makers believe business will return to pre-pandemic levels. This is according to a recent study by SAP Concur, which surveyed 700 senior corporate travel managers from 12 EMEA countries about the sustainable future of business travel. The accompanying infographic confirms that eight out of 10 respondents – 83 percent – believe in the rise of domestic travel. The fact that this recovery is well ahead of international business travel (63 percent) is hardly surprising given the additional demands and restrictions associated with cross-border travel.

Sustainability - The current state of business travel

Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) forecasts from late last year also predicted an increase in business travel activity in 2022 and a full recovery by 2024. Industry expectations are realistic but positive, according to Suzanne Neufang, CEO of GBTA:

"The business travel industry is aware that there are factors related to COVID-19 and beyond that could affect the path forward in the coming years. Overall, however, optimism prevails as the industry, businesses and travelers worldwide brace for an upswing and a much-needed return to business travel."

What does the sustainable future of the business travel industry look like?

One of the key focus points for the corporate travel industry has been and continues to be sustainability – now more than ever. A big question is being asked around the world: what sustainable changes has the industry already made in the wake of the pandemic – and what is yet to come. Our infographic, titled "Sustainability: the current state of business travel," provides exciting insights into the prevailing forecasts. Yet at first glance, the change appears difficult due to the economic environment. Business travel decision makers seem to be under more pressure due to the pandemic: According to said study, 64 percent of travel managers agree that their budgets have been impacted and demonstrating a return on investment (ROI) is more important than ever before. When it comes to sustainability, feedback is mixed. Slightly more than half of the experts surveyed admit that the issue of sustainability has taken a bit of a backseat since the pandemic. Nevertheless, 99 percent of all respondents confirmed that sustainability is still an integral part of their travel policy.

Pierre-Emmanuel Tetaz, EMEA SVP and general manager at SAP Concur, explains that the business case is fundamentally compelling, but is sometimes hidden in plain sight: "The link between sustainable business practices, corporate stability and revenue may not be obvious at first glance, but once you look beneath the surface, it becomes clearer. Being a sustainable company is not only beneficial for the employer brand, but also for the overall health of the company, including employee retention and engagement."

Yes to sustainability in business travel- but how?

So what are the barriers to progress and what solutions are needed? The corporate travel industry knows it needs to change, but not how: Nearly half of travel managers can't find a starting point. And although many decision-makers want to achieve positive momentum, more than a third find it difficult to put this into practice (35 percent). Unfortunately, there are many reasons for this: lack of training programs on sustainable travel, but also low motivation due to lack of initiatives or. Budgets. In addition, many companies do not have digital tools to collect travel data to drive sustainable change. And therein lies arguably the biggest problem, says Pierre-Emmanuel Tetaz: "Companies need strong data management to get an accurate picture of the situation so they can make the necessary adjustments to their business travel policies."This can take many forms: finding a board-level sponsor for a sustainability policy; reviewing the existing partner network to identify opportunities for improvement and new, greener candidates; educating employees about regulatory requirements; reducing time spent on non-essential travel; or even implementing digital tools to measure the impact of the business travel program."

According to the survey results, companies are clearly missing an opportunity here.

Companies recognize need for digital solutions

One of the positive findings of the study, therefore, is the increasing number of companies that see the use of tools to assess the sustainability of travel and lodging options as critical to driving behavior change within their organizations. The percentage of companies that support the use of smart tools has increased significantly since the last SAP Concur study in 2020, from 42 percent to 63 percent in 2022.

Sustainability - The current state of business travel

Not surprisingly, smart solutions from SAP Concur make it easy to facilitate independent change, as Pierre-Emmanuel Tetaz confirms: "Implementing greener best practices such as assessing your carbon footprint, implementing local distribution networks and selecting suppliers based on their sustainability credentials are all steps in the right direction. Giving employees the right tools to assess the sustainability of a hotel, shipping company or catering company can help them make better, greener decisions."

9 in 10 companies want to implement sustainable change

As for implementing a relatively quick solution, more than half of the companies surveyed (54 percent) don't even currently have travel and expense management software in place. Nevertheless, the desire for change is there: Nine out of ten companies (86 percent), are considering an intelligent tool to optimize sustainability.

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