Multiple Challenges Ahead: Travel Managers Are Facing Changed Environment

The travel manager role has evolved significantly over the past few years, from travel budget to policy administration, to managing health and safety factors during the pandemic. Today, their role continues to change as socioeconomic factors like inflation, sustainability, and geopolitical issues like international conflicts impact their responsibilities.

The fifth annual SAP Concur Global Business Travel Survey explores how the travel manager function has evolved and looks at challenges and priorities that continue to reshape their responsibilities and corporate travel programs.

The Travel Manager Role Only Gets More Stressful

According to the global survey of 700 travel managers in seven markets, nearly half (47%) of global travel managers say their role is more stressful now than 12 months ago.

Unsurprisingly, the top challenge is inflation driving up the cost of business travel, as felt by 41% of respondents.

But it’s more than that. Travel managers are challenged by:

  • Ensuring traveler safety in areas becoming hostile to marginalized groups (38%).
  • Ensuring traveler safety against illness or natural disasters (38%).
  • Finding more environmentally sustainable travel options (37%).
  • Inadequate staffing with their travel management company (30%).

Taking the above into consideration, travel managers are hungry for tools to improve visibility into all aspects of travel. Nearly all global travel managers (98%) say their job is hindered by lagging data and analytics, particularly when it comes to ensuring traveler safety (39%), demonstrating ROI to senior leadership (39%), reporting on the company’s travel emissions (38%), complying with regulations and industry standards (37%), setting budgets (37%), and updating travel policies (37%).

“The job of the travel manager is reaching a new level of complexity,” says Paul Dear, Regional Vice President – Supplier Services EMEA at SAP Concur. “Their responsibilities go far beyond managing travel and expenses. They are confronted with extensive duty of care obligations, stricter regulations, and rising prices while at the same time experiencing a lack of visibility into spend and travel activities.”

Threats to Business Travel

Business travel is bouncing back. At SAP Concur, total spending on airfare is about to exceed 2022 levels and continues to tick toward 2019 levels. This may be partially influenced by rising ticket prices: the average airfare is up 11% from 2019. 

However, according to global travel managers, the biggest threats to business travel are last-minute delays and cancellations by airlines (45%) and travel industry suppliers changing how they sell and book travel (38%). 

Sustainability Factors 

Sustainability is one of the key areas where travel managers feel pressure to act. Some of that pressure comes from within the company: More than a third of business travelers surveyed (36%) expect their company to offer more sustainable travel choices outside of company policy. Business travelers care deeply about their carbon footprints since 89% plan to take extra steps over the next 12 months to reduce the environmental impact of their business travel.

External factors, like stricter regulations, are also on travel managers’ minds: For nearly 3 in 10 travel managers (28%) environmentally unsustainable travel options are among the biggest threats to their company’s business travel. Furthermore, almost 3 in 10 (28%) expect increased challenges in their role from pressure to report more on the company’s travel emissions. Lagging data is also a hindrance to travel managers’ ability to report on the company’s travel emissions (38%). 

Travel Policy Changes

Business travel and travel policies will keep changing – that’s for sure. In the next year, 98% of global travel managers expect their company to change their travel policies. The most common change will be to enable better tracking. 

Additionally, in the next 12 months, travel managers say their company’s travel policies will change:

  • To accommodate travelers’ need for flexible options (e.g., booking directly with suppliers) (38%).
  • To better comply with internal and external sustainability goals (37%).
  • To reduce their travel costs (37%).
  • To increase cost visibility and traveler visibility (36%).

With business travel on the rise, pre-pandemic business travel habits and trends are making a comeback too. For some travel managers, the change in policy will be a return to normal. More than one out of three (34%) say they’ll go back to pre-pandemic policies.

For more information about the survey, including additional findings, please download our business traveler and travel manager whitepapers.