Recent studies reveal that nearly half of travel managers handle a wide range of responsibilities globally or within their respective regions. 

These findings underscore a significant shift in the role of travel managers. Once the preserve of a PA or EA as an addition to their everyday role, travel management has evolved into a dedicated and integral component of HR and procurement departments.

Today’s travel staff possess a diverse skill set encompassing in-depth knowledge of various destinations, travel regulations, customer service and logistics management.

With globalisation, increased connectivity, growing ESG reporting requirements and technological advancements, travel managers now function as consultants, striving to align an organisation’s travel requirements with ever changing executive agendas. Consequently, the primary responsibility of today’s travel manager is to strike a balance between managing and reporting on employer travel needs while aligning them to broader corporate objectives.

Internal and structural change  

The objectives of travel programs have expanded far beyond their original remit. For example, in a recent survey from Deloitte, travel managers cited flexible bookings (52%), sustainable travel providers (49%), and increasing compliance with booking processes (55%) as top pressures on travel budgets. The scope of these items speaks to the multiple hats travel managers must wear while also indicating a growing interest in travel personalisation.

Despite leisure travel largely rebounding to its pre-pandemic frequency, corporate travel has not followed a similar recovery pattern. While there has been a resurgence of international travel, it has been limited by travel and entertainment budget freezes. Flexible work policies have also complicated the landscape, with travellers often extending their trips to work remotely in new cities. Heightened focus on ESG requirements and the need for flexible business practices have also forced travel managers to rethink corporate travel needs.

While productivity and profitability remain a top priority in the C-suite agenda, sustainability is often cited as an area for improvement. As a result, ESG reporting now forms a key part of a travel manager’s role. For example, they’re required to identify and mitigate environmental risks associated with travel so that the travel program aligns with the company’s broader sustainability goals. 

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Why data is driving change

Given travel managers now report back to multiple stakeholders, they face new challenges around data synchronisation and categorisation. In the ESG context, 75% of executives admit to grappling with large amounts of manual data. This complexity is further compounded when security, data protection and data welfare need to be communicated across multiple silos within an organisation.

As data needs to be gathered, communicated and distributed, we increasingly see travel managers leveraging technology to help them meet renewed expectations. Online booking tools have become essential to overcoming these obstacles and ensuring the seamless flow of information. In today’s era of extreme weather events and disruptive travel strikes, reliable tools that can navigate the chaos are crucial. By leveraging real-time data, technology offers enhanced traceability and the ability to present information in more digestible formats. 

Globally, more than 1,700 organisations have already submitted concrete plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have been verified by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). As a direct result, companies have launched technology initiatives to help travel managers navigate changing expectations. 

At Uber, our sustainability dashboard enables companies to monitor their carbon emissions and the proportion of travel conducted using eco-friendly options. Quality ESG data is essential for stakeholder decision-making, emphasising the responsibility travel managers now have in upholding superior data quality standards.

Technology is not only alleviating the pressures of communicating data but also providing support in meeting the specific safety requirements of different travellers. Duty of care extends beyond preparing for worst-case scenarios; it involves reducing travel friction, closing information gaps and minimising policy non-compliance. 

Here, technology is not only alleviating the pressures of communicating data but also providing support in meeting the specific safety requirements of different travellers.

Expanding Into multiple markets 

As it stands, European travel managers expect 32% of their 2023 travel budget to go towards international trips within the continent and 28% to destinations beyond Europe. The onward march of globalisation has meant increased corporate expansion into areas of South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Ensuring travellers’ wellbeing and safety in foreign countries is a task that will become an increasing priority. By working with company leadership to align on safe travel policies, travel managers can allow for choice and flexibility across corporate travel programmes whilst maintaining their duty of care. Adding alternative accommodation options like home-style rentals is an easy way for business travellers to tailor work trips to personal needs.

To remain ahead in the ever-changing landscape, travel managers need to continue expanding their repertoire of strategies and tools. With the rise of globalisation, advanced communication, and technological development, travel managers must adapt to become strategic advisors.

Their primary role has shifted towards maintaining the delicate balance between managing and reporting on employee travel necessities and ensuring alignment with broader corporate social objectives.

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