The Dawn of Travel as a Strategy

Scott Gillespie, CEO, tClara
Scott Gillespie, CEO, tClara

In 2022 we will see more forward-thinking companies
rethink how to use business travel.

For two decades this expense category has been
managed by setting travel program goals. These goals typically relate to cost
control, compliance, duty of care and traveler satisfaction. Note that these
are inward-facing goals, ones that require management of the main ingredients
of a travel program. If a program’s goal is not met, the travel manager knows
what levers need to be pulled, and likely has the responsibility for pulling

Now, courtesy of the Covid crisis and climate
change, companies are struggling with big questions about employee retention,
health, and mobility; carbon reduction goals, supply chain fragility, and the
impact of digital communication.

Companies are asking “Where should our people work?
How, and how often should they meet? How do we recruit and retain the best
talent? How do we stay connected with our customers and suppliers? How will we
innovate and grow while being carbon-responsible?”

Companies answer these questions by looking at their
strategic business goals and working out the trade-offs, the sacrifices, the
risks, and the benefits of doing business one way or the other. They develop a
core set of strategies for achieving their key goals.

As they consider their strategic options, some will
realize that a common thread is the issue of business travel. Which problems
need to be solved with more in-person meetings? Who should travel when, how,
where, and how often? Which meetings justify business travel? How can we be
sure we’re traveling for the right reasons?

Note these travel-related questions are
outward-facing. Their answers won’t be found inside today’s typical travel
program; they must be answered by linking travel’s impact—its cost, risks, and
benefits—to the company’s larger strategic business goals. 

In 2022 more senior executives will begin grasping
that travel should be used as a strategy—one that will enable the achievement
of their bigger, outward-facing goals. Some will see travel as a scarce,
carbon-intensive resource to be used only for the most pressing issues; others
will see it as a competitive advantage to be used to outflank competitors; yet
others will use it as an enabler of better employee mobility, recruiting and

What will a strategically valuable travel program
look like? Senior management will see it as a key enabler of business goals,
constantly aligned with corporate strategy, a source of competitive advantage,
and a catalyst for building creativity, culture and teamwork across the organization.

It will take years for companies to maximize their
use of travel as a strategy. Here are 10 early markers for judging any
program’s progress:

  1. In the last 12 months has senior management clearly prioritized the
    travel program’s top goals, i.e., chosen between strategic goals such as lower
    costs, better traveler health and safety, more successful trips, less
    travel-related CO2 emissions and longer road warrior retention?
  2. Is the travel policy intentionally designed to reduce lower-value
    trips and improve the likelihood of success for each higher-value trip?
  3. Do travel professionals actively contribute to the Work From
    Anywhere and Return to Office policy decisions?
  4. Are the travel program and policy viewed as a competitive
    advantage when recruiting and retaining frequent travelers?
  5. Do managers require an unbiased pre-trip assessment of each trip’s
  6. Is each trip linked to a strategically important goal, e.g.,
    “Win revenue”, or “Improve our workforce”?
  7. Does the company track and report indicators of traveling too much
    or too little for each strategic goal?
  8. Can the executive sponsors for strategically important goals
    quickly change the criteria for justifying trips linked to their goals?
  9. Are there specific goals, strategies, and KPIs for improving the
    health, safety, and wellbeing of frequent travelers?
  10. Are there specific goals, strategies, and KPIs for reducing
    travel-related carbon emissions?

I estimate the average mid-to-large
travel program would claim fewer than three of the above markers. Six
markers would be very good; nine would be excellent; 10 is entirely possible
for many, many travel programs.

Framing travel as a strategy will open a vitally
important frontier for travel managers. Let’s watch those companies willing to forge
this trail in 2022.