If you’ve ever been stuck on London’s sweltering, airless underground in a heat wave, you will feel the pain of the capital’s commuters this week.
NB: This is an analysis by Pamela Whitby, editor of EyeForTravel.
Here in the UK, temperatures are expected to hover in the low-30s-celsius but that’s not the worst of it. Elsewhere in Europe, thermometers have climbed to 40 degrees.
And while this pales into insignificance compared with a plane crash or terror attack, the heat will affect the happiness and productivity of people who have to travel on business.
So the big question is this: will corporate travel managers care and if they don’t should they?
Cost versus value
The short answer is to the first part of the question is probably not. According to Chicago-based Will Pinnell, vice president for digital and product planning at BCD Travel, most companies today look at managed travel purely from a procurement perspective.
Above all else, the primary role of procurement is to save the company money.
A secondary aim is duty of care. So, if something goes horribly wrong on a trip - such as a plane crash or bomb blast - from a risk and liability management perspective, an employer can help its travellers manage the situation safely and efficiently.
The traveller experience and the tools they use to book their trip are not a focus for the majority of corporate travel managers, and they certainly don’t want to spend money on it.
But there is an argument that this top-down approach, as Jeroen Van Velzen, the founder of white-label travel app RoadMap calls it, doesn’t sit well with the tech-savvy, hyper-connected business traveller of today. He may have a point.
The desire to manage costs and risk is fair enough. But there is also a need to quantify the unquantifiable.
There are "costs" from not fully understanding the stress your frequent business travellers go through while on the road. This stress can negatively influence their performance, in turn impacting revenues for the corporation.
Gen Y are taking over
The importance of understanding this subtle threat becomes clearer when you consider who the business travellers of today are. Yes, we’re talking Generation Y, the so-called millennials. And this is where the threat becomes an opportunity.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, this year Gen Y already represents a majority of the workforce but by 2030 they will account for 75%.
This has implications for business travel, which by all accounts is growing. The Global Business Travel Association says that in the US, spending is expected to top $310bn in 2015 while in Europe’s five main travel markets it’s expected to rise 6.6% on 2014's figure to reach to $198.4bn.
These app-happy millennial travellers increasingly like to combine business with pleasure.
No longer happy to be beaten with the corporate travel stick, they want user-driven travel experiences; they don’t want to be told how to travel or where to stay by the suit in procurement.
They want to be trusted with managing their own budget responsibly and they want freedom of choice.
This is backed up by user behaviour on HotelTonight, the mobile only last-minute booking app. According to chief operating officer and founder Jared Simon it is seeing half its business coming from the unmanaged travel segment, where many people are using the app to save on non-refundable fees.
"Corporate travellers are looking more and more like leisure travellers and this is a big shift.”
It also explains why the more innovative companies are developing corporate tools that mirror those in the leisure travel space - because it’s in leisure travel where the innovation usually starts.
Such tools include TripIt from Concur, TripCase by Sabre, TripSource from BCD Travel, CWT to Go from Carlson Wagonlit and the list goes on.
It's good to share
Whether these apps really go far enough for the tech-savvy millennial worker is debatable and the reason for their limitations can be found in the leisure space they are trying to mirror.
Because while today’s road warriors may want a Swiss army knife of travel apps, suppliers of travel don’t.
Hotels, airlines, car hire firms, review sites and so on still want to own the customer relationship; they want the customer’s data and they want them to download their own branded app. Sharing data across verticals is still not happening.
Having said that, innovation is happening, if slowly. First talked about in 2012, "Managed Travel 2.0", which would allow travellers to book via any channel but within an agreed budget, has struggled to gain traction.
Unsurprisingly it has tended to be tech innovators, such as Google, that have embraced the concept.
However, corporate travel commentator, Scott Gillespie, argues that this could be changing with Lufthansa’s recent decision to impose a €16 surcharge on flights booked through the GDSs.
This he argues will finally accelerate Managed Travel 2.0 which “will be widely enabled, if not adopted,” as a result.
Another concept that Gillespie has sought to understand is the total cost of travel. RoadMap's van Velzen calls this ‘traveller happiness’ – the bit that’s difficult to quantify and an area crying out for more research.
Firms with high revenue generating road warriors such as consultants and lawyers are keener to embrace the notion of traveller happiness.
In companies like this, says Pinnell, it matters less if the employee takes the more expensive flight than if they arrive at their meeting stress free and on time.
Right now, however, most corporates simply don’t want to pay for add-ons to improve the experience for their employees. All but the most innovative and forward thinking are still focused on keeping costs as low as possible.
Education the key
So while the business travel sector grapples with whether any of this matters or not, Pinnell argues that corporates can do more to influence traveller behaviour.
They can educate employees about, for example, the bottom line benefits to the business of staying in a preferred hotel, encourage them to check the bill for the correct charges and check in with internal security when they arrive in, for example, a high-risk destination.
But the question remains - can the employee be bothered to save the business money by toeing the corporate line? If they are happy, cared-for employees who feel that their needs count, they will almost certainly be more inclined to do so.
And in an age where high-flier job-hopping is becoming commonplace, it’s something for corporate travel managers to think about.
NB: This is an analysis by Pamela Whitby, editor of EyeForTravel. It appears here as part of Tnooz's sponsored content initiative.
EyeForTravel's TDS North America takes place on the 19-20 October in Las Vegas. Will Pinnell and other senior executives in leisure and business travel will be debating the latest trends.
NB2:London in summer image by Shutterstock