Business Travel: Could Be Better

Laura Houldsworth

Laura Houldsworth, Managing Director for SAP Concur Southeast Asia, believes that business travel is an unspoken source of employee frustration and a highly-stressful affair for fledgling businesses. Her statement comes following the publication of an SAP Concur survey which reveals key challenges that employees face when they travel for work.

“Despite technology being such an integral part of our day-to-day lives – the thing that you can’t live without now is your mobile phone – and yet we find out that 77% of Singaporean business travellers are saying that their businesses are lagging behind. They’re doing so much on their phones in their personal lives, and yet they can’t do it for business travel at work. And yet they’re asked to travel more and more, because the ‘handshake’ – the face-to-face interaction – really seals the deal and makes the difference,” she explains in a recent interview with MoneyFM.

Houldsworth, who resides in Singapore, says that it is not so surprising that Singaporeans are the most risk-adverse travellers globally.

“More than 38% of business travellers in Singapore say that it’s the first thing that they think about; they’re making it No. 1 in their list of top priorities – unlike their Japanese counterparts, for instance, who put the company first vs. potentially their own safety. We’re coming from a very safe place and heading into possibly multiple unknown locations for the first time.”

Houldsworth notes that safety is an all-encompassing issue. “It’s everything you would consider when travelling for pleasure, usually with people, but when you’re on business, you’re usually by yourself. When you take a business trip, you’re possibly arriving very late at night, it can be anything from what do you do when you land in a brand-new airport to – even when you’re regularly going there – which taxi and/or train do you take, it can be what hotel you should stay in – some companies even have regulations on which floors you should stay in,” she adds.

According to her, what stresses business travellers are the two issues of where to go for information and how to make the business booking.

“If I’m going for my leisure, I typically go to my phone, I go to SingaporeAirlines.com, AirBnB, and I’ve got it done, probably on my way home. But when it comes to business travel, it becomes much more complicated, multiple systems are usually being used, maybe I have to put in a request to my boss in one system, I have to go to multiple different sources for my air, my hotel, and what do I do about my land transport? So it’s the stress of trying to find and locate information in one single source. Employers really should be looking at combining that into one place, making it simpler and more user-friendly, and giving the employees the ‘leisure experience’ that they’re looking for.”

Houldsworth also notes that a very much understated issue that of reimbursement – or rather, the lack thereof.

“Employees are bearing the cost of helping their companies grow when they’re travelling. You may think that you end up losing S$100-200 in a year; no, over S$1300 per employee per year is being lost. They’re just not being reimbursed because it’s too complicated or too hard or takes too long. In fact, 1 in 5 said they would rather have a cavity filled in their teeth then do their expense reports.

“Companies may be thinking, ‘well, better for us rather than make it too easy, because cost is reduced’, but ultimately it ends up in reputational risk, not being able to hire the right people, and workforce attrition, so it’s something that companies need to take very seriously.

Houldsworth believes that employees want to do the right thing by the company, so they tend to be looking for the most cost-effective solution, while still making sure that they get what they need from a safety aspect.

“So there’s a fine balance that companies need to think about – traveller satisfaction vs. policy guidance to make sure that costs are controlled. We see that 3 out of 4 travellers would like to be able to go online; would like to have the same experience and something in their hands that they can do, but also use that same capability to help them while they’re on the trip, so not have information in sporadic places.”

She notes that she is a frequent traveller herself. “Most weeks I’m on the road, and I’m definitely a minority travelling around Asia. I’m fortunate to have SAP Concur as my employer, we have an app that provides me the ability to get my pre-trip approval, make my booking, and do my expenses, but also have my safety in my hands.

“I use the TripIt app, which means I can have my itinerary in one place, I will get real-time alerts which will say ‘here, you’re landing in this city, take this taxi company’ or ‘avoid this’ or ‘take this train’, so I have the backing and the support to deal with harassment and discrimination when I need it, and I know where to go, and I think that’s something that enabled me to forge ahead with regular business travel.”

According to Houldsworth, companies really need to re-evaluate their existing travel policies and processes, and leverage technology to make business trips less painful, so that they make it more of the sort of seamless experience that tech-savvy travellers are expecting. “Prioritise safety; companies have a duty of care and an obligation and they need to make sure that they’re using the technology that enables their travellers to feel secure on the road, empower them to make the right decisions, select the right sources, and be safe wherever they’re going.”

SAP Concur is the world’s leading brand for travel, expense, and invoice management solutions. The SAP Concur survey involved 7,850 respondents across 19 global markets.

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