Though business travel was slowed by the pandemic, it’s starting to pick up again, and trip approval requests will be trickling in.
Fact is, many companies are feeling the pressure to return to a sense of normalcy. And though Zoom conferences and virtual interactions have served as a good alternative, nothing beats face to face, says Jo Sully of American Express Global Business Travel. Her firm predicts a return to around 60%-70% of usual business travel volumes in 2021, and a return to pre-pandemic travel levels in 2022 or 2023.
Other experts feel similarly: Jamie Pherous of Corporate Travel Management Ltd. says there’s a “pent-up demand” for companies. Sometimes, it’s simply harder to make vital business decisions over conference call. It’s easier to do in person.
Balancing safety and savings
As travel picks up, certain aspects of the T&E process that have shifted during the pandemic may need to be reconsidered. A prime example: trip approval.
In the age of the coronavirus, companies must meet business travel needs while maintaining cost control. They have to ensure duty of care while focusing on spend management. And that challenge raises the question for CFOs: What’s the best trip approval process for us to use now?
Most organizations use a variation of “pre-trip approvals” or “pre-trip notifications.” Which is right for you depends on your specific requirements, resources and culture, explain the pros at Travel Incorporated.
Take a look at a summary of each, so you can determine the optimal process for your business trip approvals going forward.
As you know, pre-trip approvals entail a formal process in which an employee has to get the OK from a supervisor or manager before booking a trip. It’s more proactive.
Basics: This approach can vary from company to company. Some want all the details about the trip; others just require the basic where, when, why.
Pros: Because travelers know their bookings are being reviewed and assessed, there’s often higher compliance. They know if they want their trip approved quickly and easily, they must stay within policy rules.
Cons: There’s often some lag time between when employees submit and managers approve trips. That opens the door to the chance that fares will go up or seats/rooms will fill up by the time the trip is approved.
With pre-trip notifications, supervisors are sent a notification with trip info when a traveler makes a reservation. It’s more reactive.
Basics: This approach simply lets supervisors know what their travelers are up to. There’s no action needed from supervisors, since trips are already booked. But they can act if they have concerns about compliance, costs, etc. (If using software, most systems let supervisors void trips within one day without incurring any costs or fees.)
Pros: Trips are still being monitored, but this process requires less time and energy from both travelers and supervisors. And since the employee books first and then notifies their manager, they don’t have to worry about rate fluctuations or unavailability.
Cons: There’s no concrete action required from supervisors, so trips are essentially made without oversight. If supervisors don’t thoroughly review trip notification details, it could lead to higher rates of rogue spend or noncompliance.