The COVID-19 pandemic continues to shift once long-ingrained mindsets around corporate travel at record pace, from how businesses talk about risk management and safety to the ways travel managers measure the success of their program. Elements of the business once deemed indispensable have taken a backseat, while overlooked processes and policies gain new relevancy.
Trip approval, long deemed an optional form of oversight to reduce expenses, is now getting a second look from future-forward executives and operations-savvy travel managers. Automated trip approval is no longer a simple matter of yes or no proportions, but a key step towards collecting and streamlining the complexities of COVID-19 restrictions and regional variances. Below we’ve tapped into the insights of Direct Travel’s Executive Vice President of Customer Experience, Christine Sikes, to make the case for why trip approval matters now more than ever.
Evolving Travel Buyer Sentiment
Before the pandemic, most companies implemented trip approval for budgetary oversight purposes. Companies without a trip approval process may have cited a strong trust level in their employees or the statistically low rejection rate (traditionally between one and two percent) as evidence for their reasoning. Since the myriad of travel changes caused by COVID-19, that sentiment has changed markedly. According to a recent poll by GBTA, 53 percent of travel buyers have implemented new rules around trip approval.
Behind this shift is the designation of what classifies as “essential travel.” While government entities have their own base-level definition, each company may have further qualifications to determine which members of their traveling population can return to the road. For instance, depending on the speed in which a business is resuming travel, it may restrict a set period of time to essential trips only, with further approval required at the executive level. Within an automated trip approval system, a form is sent to employees after a trip is booked but before ticketing, capturing the details necessary to evaluate which trips meet the established criteria. Those in essential industries such as healthcare, pharmaceutical, energy, or marine transport likely already have a process in place, but businesses outside those fields should work with their Travel Management Company (TMC) to evaluate their own need and establish goals for their trip approval process.
Perhaps the most important reason for implementing an automated pre-trip system is to mitigate risk and streamline the process for navigating travel restrictions. Travel alerts and recommendations continue to change almost daily, making it extremely difficult to stay abreast of quarantine and testing requirements. Using an automated trip approval system in tandem with a proactive TMC messaging tool, the specific requirements are communicated at the time of booking (depending on nationality, country, province, and county of residence) and again 24 hours before the trip if anything has changed. This is important to minimize unexpected disruptions and ensure a successful itinerary. For example, while two countries may both have a testing component required to be completed at the airport upon landing, the time and costs associated with the test for one country may vary widely from the other, leaving the traveler in a lurch if this has not been accounted for.
Immigration issues can also be challenging to navigate without a robust trip approval and automated communication process, particularly for a global company. While an employee may be a dual passport holder, their ability to enter any given country will be based on their current country of residence, not their passport or nationality. To avoid this pitfall, an immigration form can be incorporated into the process after the traveler starts the booking with an agent or OBT but before ticketing.
Implementing for the Future
Like any business policy or technology, updating your corporate travel program to incorporate trip approval must take into account a variety of factors unique to your company. Direct Travel offers a wide range of multi-level, trip approval customizations depending on your internal needs. To get started, ask yourself what your company’s purpose for trip approval is and then identify the ROI your company associates with travel.
In any case, more and more businesses are seeing the benefit it provides by adding a second layer of risk management and security to the booking process—a Iayer that will continue to provide value long after the pandemic has waned.
If you are evaluating your travel policy or considering adding an automated trip approval system to your process, contact Direct Travel to learn about the customized options available to meet your company’s needs.