How Data Can Make Business Travel Profitable

Andrew Jordan, Chief Technology Officer and Eric Tyree, Chief Data Scientist at Carlson Wagonlit Travel

It’s easy to be obsessed with data. After all, data is the power source that’s driving the success of global tech giants like Google and Amazon. But what many fail to realise is that you don’t have to be a tech company to harness the power of data. Today, data is being used to drive efficiencies across all aspects of business, including business travel.

Business travel and the bottom line haven’t always been seen as complimentary to one another, and it’s this assumption that’s driving a negative association between profitability and travel. However, with the technological evolution, we’re seeing more and more businesses use data to change the perception on how business travel is viewed, experienced and managed internally. Data has the capacity to help companies understand the impact travel has on their business, and more importantly the value it brings.

Measuring the ROI on business travel
Many Australian companies spend tens of millions of dollars on business travel every year, with hardly any way to measure return on investment (ROI). An activity of any kind would need to prove ROI for this sort of money, and business travel should be no different. The trouble is that travel data is still viewed in a vacuum: the focus on costs means people look at travel budgets as just the cost of a plane ticket, hotel and taxi.

But businesses shouldn’t look at the ROI on travel through such a narrow lens. It’s time to start leveraging the hidden treasures revealed in data by combining traditional travel with HR, finance and non-traditional data sources.

By collating different pools of data, businesses can begin to understand the true cost of a trip, and the true value it generates. For example, overlaying travel with finance data can help businesses explore the correlation between travel and revenue growth. Using data, it’s easy to spot the trips that offer a greater contribution to revenue than others, allowing businesses to streamline efficiencies accordingly.

Businesses can also use data to start looking into productivity during travel. For example, an average business trip is seven hours of traveling, including transit. That’s a lot of time. With HR data, this can be converted into salary, which gives you a fairly accurate cost per hour of travel.

When seen in this light, the time spent sitting in the airplane can actually cost more than the price of the ticket. If by flying business class you can work for the entire flight, the chances are the business will be able to get back the cost of the ticket in billable working hours.

But it’s not all just about billable hours and ticket prices when it comes to business travel. Businesses need to understand how business travel helps their business strategy. 

Revealing the true relationship between business travel and business strategy
Taking a holistic view of data can benefit a business in other ways, too. For a start, it brings a whole new way of addressing employee well-being.

Anecdotally, there is a relationship between illness and travel. If you talk to people, they’ll agree that the more you travel the more likely you are to get sick. When you look at the data – in particular sickness and absence data from HR systems – there’s a weak, minor correlation between travel and illness. HR can begin to see the impact that travel policies have on employees, and can use this to look into the relationship between business travel and employee illness, productivity or staff turnover. They can then take action by adjusting their travel policies – such as giving employees time off after certain business trips.

A traveller who has to take more than three weeks off work due to illness can be very expensive for their company when you look at their time cost, productivity loss and insurance premiums. In hard dollar terms this can actually work out to a six figure sum. With data like this, travel managers can have conversations with HR directors and create travel policies that factor in talent management, health and wellbeing. You’re no longer just looking at getting people from A to B or just looking at expense. You’re able to look at the human side of travel and measure it in ways that are very persuasive to your business’s decision makers.

What’s holding business travel back?
When it comes to travel, often the barrier is cultural. Across the business, travel managers will need to engage with divisions across the company to build a complete picture and justify investment. This means travel data has to be read differently and opened up to other parties such as HR, sales and financial departments. It’s about bringing together separate interests and creating new KPIs to measure the effectiveness of travel programs.

Once this happens, business travel becomes a strategic topic – and HR directors, CFOs and CEOs join the conversation. Most importantly, instead of an expense, decision-makers can start looking at business travel as a revenue generator – and get more bang for their buck.

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