Business Travel Continues to Grow in China, While Organizations Adopt a More Traveller-Centric Approach to Their Business Travel Programs
CITS American Express Global Business Travel today announced the results of its 2016 China Business Travel Survey (the Barometer) during the twelfth annual China Business Travel Forum (CBTF), held in Shanghai.
Earlier this year, it was widely reported that expenditure on business travel in China has overtaken the United States to be the country with the largest business travel spending globally*. According to the Barometer’s findings, average growth for travel and expense (T&E) budgets in China in 2016 was 4.86%, consistent with 4.8% growth in 2015, and also with the 4.42% that had been anticipated in the 2015 survey.
Of the surveyed organizations, 52% maintained stable T&E budgets for the last 12 months and 61% indicated they will not increase their budgets in 2017. The uncertainties of the current economic environment are clearly impacting enterprises, but the majority of organizations surveyed indicated that travel is a core business function and they will continue to invest in and improve their managed travel programs. Thirty-six percent (36%) indicated they will need to find smarter ways to spend their budgets to support travel activities, and 29% will try to find ways to increase travel to further accelerate business growth.
In terms of air travel spending, the proportion of international spending against domestic air travel has decreased this year compared with 2015. The domestic portion this year is an average of 73% (up from 66% in 2015) and international is 15% (down from 19% in 2015)**. The contraction of international travel compared with domestic spending is likely to be the result of a number of different trends including a sharper focus on growing businesses domestically as China continues to grow, albeit at a slower rate, and a more conservative approach to business expenses leading to fewer internal meetings abroad.
“Our research indicates that because of continued economic uncertainty companies are cautious when it comes to increasing their business travel spending. They do, however, recognize the importance of travel as a contributor to revenue growth and as such are trying to find smarter, more innovative and efficient ways to manage their business travel programs. Further, in keeping with increased disruption and instability globally, business leaders are more focused than ever before on supporting their travelling employees from a duty of care perspective,” said Marco Pellizzer, Vice President of American Express Global Business Travel, Mainland China and Hong Kong.
Taking care of your people so they can take care of your business
This year’s Barometer highlighted that enterprises’ focus on improving travel management is not only on saving money and achieving compliance objectives, but is also firmly set on supporting their valuable employees. The Barometer indicates the top three priorities in formulating business travel policies include: ’employee safety’, ’employee’s mental and physical conditions’ and ‘work efficiency of the employee during and after the business travel’. Among the companies that have actually changed policies during the last 12 months, 28% did so in response to the need to enhance processes and policies in relation to their duty of care to their employees. Regarding the actual policy changes, 57% implemented feeds to security service providers, 47% mandated air bookings with a designated agency, and 32% mandated hotel bookings with an appointed agency.
The Barometer found that nearly 30% of organizations said they would consider updating their business travel policies in future to address the needs of travelers, mainly to take into consideration the use of enhanced safety measures.
Sixty percent 60%) of enterprises reported allowing to varying degrees the use of sharing economy services – 7% higher than in 2015 – indicating a trend towards being more accommodating of traveler preferences. Sharing economy solutions for travel and accommodation in business programs is expected to continue to grow: 56% of respondents are expecting to adopt shared economy solutions in the next 12 months.
Not only is ensuring the safety of travelling employees a key concern, the Barometer also shows that 35% of respondents consider an organizations’ travel program a key business driver and point of differentiation as an employer – an increase of 16% from 2015. As competition for talent in China continues to increase, the trend of leveraging better employee travel schemes for the purpose of retention and recruitment is expected to increase.
Continued quest for efficiencies and consolidation in business travel management
The Barometer demonstrates a significant year-on-year increase in enterprises achieving compliance with travel policies as a result of better business travel management. Among the interviewed enterprises in the 2016 Barometer, 75% achieved travel policy compliance at a rate of more than 50% – a significant increase from 53% in 2015.
In 2015, there was a considerable movement away from the practice of using multiple travel management companies (TMCs) or agencies. There has been no further significant year-on-year change when it comes to using multiple TMCs, however, nearly 59% of multi-agency users surveyed are considering pursuing a consolidation to fewer agencies to either optimize cost or simplify processes. This further supports the trend over the past few years among local and multinational companies based in China to simplify the operational aspects of their travel management programs, in recognition of the benefits that economies-of-scale can bring, and the disadvantages of resource duplication. The top three reasons cited by organizations choosing to work with one external travel management service provider, were: ‘high-quality customer service’, ‘competitive pricing’ and ‘improved control of travelers behavior and duty of care”.
The Barometer also indicates an increased focus on financial reporting and controls being put into place. Firms obtaining business travel expense reports through business travel management companies and cost management systems account for 50% of those surveyed, an increase from 43% in 2015. As companies are experiencing better management of travel expenses with the use of business travel management services, it is expected more companies will choose these services in the future.
Fifty-three percent (53%) of organizations surveyed undertook projects involving enhancement of their travel technologies solutions during the last 12 months, indicating a continued desire to search for and employ new technologies to improve the business travel programs and provide a better experience for their travelers.
“Regardless of economic cycles, experienced business leaders are seeking new revenue opportunities and business travel goes hand-in-hand with these. However, it is important that an organization’s managed travel program is designed and executed with overall business objectives and efficiencies in mind. Further, an employee’s safety, productivity and wellbeing are integral to business success, and travel policies can make a significant difference in attracting, retaining and motivating them. Enterprises should invest in knowledge and innovation, and fully leverage the expertise of TMCs, to benefit their overall business travel program,” said Pellizzer.
The Barometer is an annual report detailing the current status of, as well as forecasts for, China business travel. The 2016 Barometer surveyed executives from 200 companies in China ranging from small enterprises with fewer than 100 employees to large companies with well above 500 staff. The organizations are located in major economic areas in China, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and various secondary cities. The top industries represented within the survey respondents were manufacturing, technology, financial services and pharmaceutical.