A conversation with Kelly Ellis, Global Practice Area Lead, Traveler Engagement
Your travel policy is the bedrock of your business travel program, and it needs to be practical and relevant.
With so much change in the industry, it’s more important than ever to build a gold standard travel policy to make your program the best it can be.
To help, we asked Kelly Ellis, Global Traveler Engagement Practice Lead for her guidance.
Why is it so important for companies to be thinking about travel policy now?
There’s been so much change over the last two years that it’s very likely your travel policy needs to be refreshed. Whether you’re thinking about travel, expenses, sustainability, inflation, or employee wellbeing, we’ve found that there are items throughout most policies that need to be examined to make sure they’re still relevant to today’s travel context.
What exactly do you mean by a “best-in-class” travel policy?
In the past, pre-COVID-19, when creating new travel policies, we’d benchmark to the best practices from other policies. But now we’re recommending a far more agile approach, benchmarking against what’s happening today, rather than against other policies.
In doing this, we’ve developed what we consider a gold standard or best-in-class travel policy approach. This includes standard elements for air, hotel, and ground transportation, but we are also incorporating a broader mix of factors. These could include sustainable travel initiatives, diversity and inclusion (D&I), traveler health and wellness, and perks, rewards, and incentives. The important thing is that it’s not a one size fits all approach because not everything will be relevant for each company or industry. So, we tailor that gold standard based on individual organizational priorities and travel program goals.
How do companies get started to ensure they are incorporating best practices into their policy?
First and foremost, you need to have a thorough understanding of your current travel policy, and how it may (or may not be) supporting overall organizational goals. We have the most important policy elements for each category in our database. So, for example, if we’re assessing an existing air policy, we can go through 50+ data points and score the existing policy to see if those are present and well written. We assign a score, then we’re able to show clients how they can incorporate new policy elements or improve existing ones to strengthen their policy overall.
What are some of the mindset shifts and changes companies need to make as they undertake the process of changing their policy?
We’re seeing three major shifts.
- Health and wellness is definitely a key factor now. Safety and security have always been a huge priority in travel policies – and still are today. However, since COVID-19, there’s more of a focus on health and wellbeing for travelers – thinking about what it means for them to be safe while on the road and also healthy. So, it’s important to incorporate and update policy guidance accordingly. This may not always require a hard-coded rule change. Sometimes, it’s just a finesse so it’s an addressed approach within the policy.
- Tone of voice and structure within policies is also changing. People used to read the black and white newspaper. They rarely do that anymore. Likewise, a 50-page policy was acceptable and maybe new employees would read it in one sitting. That’s not a normal occurrence anymore. So, we have to make policy information accessible and easily digestible for our traveler population and even be able to answer questions in the interview process as travel policies sometimes make or break an employment decision.
- Collaboration is another important mindset shift. Companies are moving away from working in silos when looking at the travel policy. Increasingly, lots of different teams have input, whether that’s the people handling expenses, the risk management team, the HR team, the sustainability group, or the COVID-19 task force. Companies are breaking down internal barriers, and teams aren’t just playing in their own sandboxes. It’s true collaboration, which is a great approach.
Can you outline some of the trending topics in travel policy today?
What’s trending right now is sustainable travel, health and wellness, D&I, and travel alternatives. This last one is a mindset shift we’ve been recommending for a few years now. Yes, we’re in the travel industry, and we want people to travel, but we also need to think about whether that’s the right choice and make that decision upfront. Companies are calling this out right at the top of the policy, asking questions like: “Is this trip necessary?” or “Is this trip essential?” And not surprisingly, “Could we use a virtual tool instead?” It’s encouraging travelers to act like owners and make the best decisions for themselves, the environment, and the company.
How can you get policy information out to travelers more effectively?
The big shift is engaging travelers at the moments when they need information, which is something we’ve always recommended at Advito. The remote work environment makes this even more important. This includes things like recommending sustainable options when booking in the online booking tool (OBT), or reminding them about their expense limit in the mobile app. Because travelers and especially new hires aren’t going to remember everything in the policy a few months later when they take their first business trip.
There are three key areas where it’s important to reach travelers. A company’s intranet site should house its full policy and emphasize key points on its travel pages. The OBT needs to focus on the policy portions that are relevant during that booking experience. And the mobile apps need to focus on what’s relevant to travelers while they’re on the road and even post-trip. In addition to those main three, you can also improve education and awareness with supplemental channels like email campaigns, internal social communities, webinars, lunch and learns, and so on to keep travelers up to speed on policy updates.
How has the approach to policy review changed, and why?
We used to review travel policies every five years or so, but everything is changing so rapidly and so drastically that it’s more important to have an agile, flexible approach. We now recommend a travel policy review at least once a year. If you do that, it becomes an ongoing approach that gets easier and easier to do each time.
Ready to create your own best-in-class travel policy? Learn more about Advito’s travel policy service.