Travelers well-being and the shift to purposeful business travel

Duty of care obligations mean companies are legally required to look after their traveling employees from a safety perspective.

But, three years on from the start of the pandemic, there is talk beyond safety to more of a focus on traveler well-being – mental, physical and emotional.

The changing nature of work – with people working from home or generally in a more distributed manner – in addition to the spotlight on corporate and social responsibility, are driving that focus on well-being generally as well as traveler well-being more specifically.

Where there’s a problem, solutions spring up and a number of travel management companies including Egencia, TripActions and CTM have developed dashboards to track traveler well-being based on drawing information from itineraries.

Last December, Egencia unveiled its well-being dashboard, which aggregates data to enable travel managers to see the impact on an individual who is traveling.

The change in working patterns was a key driver for the development of the solution. 

John Sturino, vice president of product and technology at Egencia, says: “Before the pandemic there were certain things that weren’t thought of as part of the travel manager’s job, and I think wellness was one of them. Once you get into a position as a general manager where you don’t see people every day, a lot of those signals you used to have to say whether your folks are doing okay, went away.”

The dashboard, currently in alpha testing with customers, looks at 15 different indicators including the number of time zones traveled through, average traveling hours and number of red-eye flights to assess whether a trip might be creating stress as well as whether it’s time to check-in with that traveler.

The TripAction’s solution, launched in May, works similarly, tracking factors including nights and weekend nights away, flight duration and number of connections.

Chevawn Bloom, senior product marketing manager at TripActions, says travel and human resources managers are definitely bringing employee well-being to the top of their priority list.

The trend feeds in to a wider shift in thinking around trip purpose, success and value.

Tracking value

Last June, Microsoft Travel hosted a “Purposeful Travel Summit” with attendees including travel managers, consultants and executives from airline, hotel, travel management companies and travel technology firms.

The overarching takeaway from the event is that travel should have “higher impact, lower footprint and greater inclusivity” and that includes minimal impact on traveler health.

In a recent LinkedIn post, Eric Bailey, global director of employee travel and devices at Microsoft, shared the “Corporate Travel with Purpose Platform” developed out of the event.

The platform is based on four pillars, including focusing on travel being about greater inclusivity and minimal impact.

Bailey says it’s also about driving value and “the traveler is the key point around that value, whether it’s work or personal, they’re the one that is out there. They’re the one that can either drive value or not drive value.”

Before the pandemic the focus for travel managers was often cost reduction, but Bailey says travel with purpose is aligned with cost reduction in many ways.

“A lot of these things are saying ‘when does it make sense to take that trip and when taking that trip, how do you maximize the value of it?'”

He adds that from the well-being perspective, companies need trust their travelers to decide what’s best for them alongside what’s best for the company. In other words do you need to take the red-eye flight to get to a Monday morning meeting, knowing there may be a trade-off in family time.

“As we start to understand people and maybe the persona, the profile, we’re going to have a better way of pulling that information in. I think we’re on the line of being willing to share that data if we can anonymize it more. I don’t need to tell you my kids’ birthdays, however my kids’ birthdays have a big impact on my travel. As we look at those things and the factors that go into wellbeing, it’s not just the red-eye, it’s the family time, the time when you get back, the other meetings and your productivity. As we start to put all those things together I think we’ll get smarter at it. There’s no great way to pull those together today,” Bailey says.

Going forward, he believes travelers – not corporate travel managers – will choose the dashboards that will be effective in tracking well-being, especially as they become personalized, because it’s the traveler that owns the information and makes decisions that impact them.

He also believes that much richer information is needed and a “redefining of why we go on trips” with “success reports” replacing expense reports. 

Success metrics

TClara’s Scott Gillespie, an advisor to the business travel industry on traveler friction and better results from travel, says tracking success shouldn’t be hard, but companies will need to see metrics built up around whether paying attention to well-being reaps results for the company.

“For example, road warrior or frequent traveler attrition rates. It’s not a hard one to track, and travel management companies are pretty well positioned to do it by virtue of their ability to monitor the presence or absence of a traveler profile which can be assumed to be synonymous with retention or attrition,” he says.

A further metric, that Gillespie agrees with Bailey on is trip success, which he sees as potentially the easiest way to “connect the dots between traveler well-being and successful outcomes.”

“It simply requires asking travelers what they hope to achieve before a trip and how well they did after the trip. I’m not talking about ROI, that’s a fool’s errand – it should not be done and cannot be done with any credibility or scale. Trip success is fairly easy to measure and there’s no excuse for not doing at this point,” he says.

A third metric, which Gillespie suggests would be easy to implement, is the Patient Health Questionnaire-4 used by the medical profession as a standard method of quickly assessing a person’s mental health, signs of anxiety and or depression. 

While he praises the current technology developments from travel management companies as a great start, Gillespie believes more needs to be measured going forward.

“I developed the concept of traveler friction back in 2017, and I think that’s now what these TMCs are waking up to – scorable, quantifiable elements of an itinerary that can be useful to helping track how much wear and tear a traveler has taken on,” he says.

But in the future, he sees more being done pre-trip around traveler well-being and greater awareness leading to employers and travel suppliers striving to improve trips for travelers.

And, Gillespie says a calibration for returning travelers is also needed to look at how they’re feeling and whether some downtime is required.

Projecting forward a few years, will there be more attention paid to traveler well-being and more technology to build up a picture of traveler activity and feedback meaningful data?

Gillespie believes that the more we learn, the more likely we’ll see “very direct links between traveler well-being and successful business outcomes. The experiment will most likely show that this is a good investment of time, money and effort, and we’ll find better ways to measure and assess, intervene and predict, just how to help travelers continually improve their wellness.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *