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Short-Term Business Travel: Insights from Graebel

Last week we got global mobility insights from Graebel when we sat down with Natalie Campbell, Vice President, New Technologies at Graebel to discuss her views on the latest trends and challenges companies face when managing business travelers.

What are the 3 biggest trends in business travel today?

NATALIE: The major trends we see relating STBT are:

  • Compliance – Many companies are choosing to meet interstate and international personnel placement needs through STBT rather than sending their people on relocation assignments. And when it comes to international STBT, companies are very concerned about compliance related to that activity.  At the insideMOBILITY Summit meetings Graebel sponsors around the globe each year, most corporate leaders admit they’re less and less certain about whether their activity is compliant with the laws and regulations of the countries they’re engaging in. In 2017, at the Americas region meeting, only 15% indicated they were “Very Confident” about this compliance. In the Asia-Pacific region the number was 14%. The highest we saw was in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, where STBT compliance confidence stood only at 20%.
  • Robust data requirements – As companies rely on STBT more and more, they don’t always appreciate how quickly this activity not only triggers a whole host of compliance issues, but also creates operational issues that need to be managed, for example related to employee benefits and even employee satisfaction. They also need predictive analytics related to STBT, so they can plan for future activity.
  • Increased activity – As we describe in more detail below, Millennials and the emerging young workforce of Generation Z expect and even demand international assignments. Companies will not only have to accommodate that where possible, but use tech-driven mobility management tools or a global compliance workflow solution that the employees are comfortable with, and also meet the needs of the business.
How do you predict the state of STBT in 2025?

NATALIE: Well, a lot can happen in seven years! But we have no doubt innovative and progressive companies will be more engaged than ever in new locations – within the U.S. and internationally. They’ll increase their presence in locations they’re already in and move into new states, countries and regions. Things like Brexit and U.S. tax law changes may affect international STBT activity at the margins, but companies will always put their people where they need to be, when they need to be there.

Companies will, however, re-evaluate how they put their people on the ground in these locations. Our corporate clients are always evaluating their mobility strategies to control costs – and moving forward this could trigger an increase in STBT.

Last, Millennials will demand more international exposure as they build their careers, and this also will drive more STBT as well as outright relocations. In a survey of Millennials we commissioned in 2016, we found that 84% are willing to relocate to advance their careers and 82% believe they’ll be required to relocate for that reason. Millennials expect to be on the move!

But don’t stop at the Millennials. We also sponsored a study of Generation Z college seniors in 2017 that indicates this global career mindset isn’t going away any time soon. Sure, these students see the value of international exposure for their imminent careers, but 77% want an international assignment to experience new cultures and 71% want it for personal growth reasons. Businesses should be prepared to offer this experience if they want to keep their best young employees.

What’s the biggest problem companies struggle with related to this population today?

NATALIE: One of the biggest challenges major companies have related to STBT, and employee mobility in general, is pulling together data from multiple sources – travel, finance, business, HR, Mobility, and others. You can’t optimize something unless you can get a handle on it.

Certain corporate mandates related to STBT – for example cost, efficiency, compliance and benefit management – are shared by multiple departments. And that, of course, means no one department tends to take ownership of it overall! So, we’re seeing STBT optimization and compliance responsibilities defaulting to corporate Mobility offices that too often don’t have the staffing, tools or other resources to tackle it holistically.

How do you see the employee experience changing as it relates to how companies manage their STBT?

NATALIE: To some extent, companies will hold employees responsible for compliance matters related to STBT. These employees, in turn, will demand technology solutions to help them in this area.

Some location tracking processes utilize GPS technology, but we don’t think employees will stand for that moving forward because of the invasion of personal privacy.

The days are long gone when employees simply book a business trip. These days, the process really should involve additional steps allowing for oversight by other stakeholders – for example, business, travel, tax, immigration, payroll, risk and security, and mobility. The added steps and the increased lead times will trigger employee frustration – and maybe even lost opportunities -unless the process can be significantly streamlined with tools employees are comfortable using.

How is STBT changing with millennials?  What do businesses need to do to accommodate this generation?

NATALIE: In general, Millennials consider business travel, especially international exposure, as a critical element of their personal and career development. Companies will need to accommodate that desire in a cost-effective way if they want to retain their best people.

I mentioned the Millennial and Generation Z surveys earlier, and here’s something else we learned: 78% of Millennials prefer to make relocation-related arrangements themselves using web-based tools. The new graduates of Generation Z also expect this kind of relocation support. In other words, both generations are self-sufficient to a point-if they have the tools, they’ll take care of the details. And employers need to make sure those tools account for and drive personal and organizational compliance and meet other organizational needs

Is STBT a concern for your clients in terms of implementing a program, managing the population, ensuring compliance? If so what is the biggest challenge for them?

NATALIE: All those elements of STBT that you mentioned are a concern to our clients, and pulling them all together within a single solution is one of their biggest challenges. Frankly, that’s what drove us to develop the Graebel Business Traveler Manager technology tool, not only to support compliance but highlight STBT trends and situations that warrant a closer look for planning purposes.

But stepping back, the specific challenges we hear in this regard are related to:

  • Identifying all the stakeholders
  • Articulating the importance of compliance within those circles
  • Determining the best source for all travel data
  • Ensuring compliance for both the employee and the business
How are you developing a service offering for your clients

NATALIE: We understand business activity is fluid and people and processes need to be flexible. As an organization’s best people are being pulled into interstate or international environments and projects, the last thing on anyone’s mind may be how the days and dollars are adding up. They need a proactive, automated solution for managing and tracking STBT and that’s why we developed the Graebel® Business Travel Manager, which:

  • Captures STBT information at the employee and program level
  • Aggregates static and trend data in a variety of formats so businesses can plan for the present and the future
  • Sets monitors and thresholds on STBT levels and then proactively notifies stakeholders about a number of STBT-related variables such as tax liability, immigration, and host country restrictions

That last point is critical because exceeding certain thresholds can trigger tax liability, fines, penalties, visa and immigration issues, and other business concerns.

Companies need IT solutions that automatically capture data related to their STBT activity. The regulatory stakes are too high to rely on employee self-reporting. Our system proactively notifies users about trends and thresholds. Again, you can’t rely on the human element to seek out and analyze the STBT status of hundreds or thousands of employees on a regular basis.

We offer full service management of an STBT program using the Graebel Business Travel Manager or we’ll also work with a client to set up and configure the software so they can manage it on their own.

How can companies get and use data to make smarter travel policy and buying decisions?

NATALIE: We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the compliance side of STBT monitoring and reporting. But there’s also the internal management side. With our tracking tool, the STBT data rolls up into incredibly valuable views of present and anticipated activity.

With this kind of total travel data visibility, corporation can, for example, look at frequent destinations and then leverage economies of scale for things like accommodations and transportation.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience in corporate business travel.

NATALIE: I’ve been in global mobility for more than 20 years with experience in international assignment management, domestic relocation and client facing technology. Joining Graebel in 2015 as the vice president of new technologies, I am responsible for ensuring tools are in place to allow our clients to better manage their mobility program and their global employees.

Sheri Gaster

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