A new trend report from corporate travel management company FCM, indicates that 2024 will be a pivotal year for South African businesses to reevaluate their travel programmes and policies.
With major national elections on the horizon, economic uncertainty may tempt some companies to scale back travel budgets. However, FCM’s research suggests a more nuanced, proactive approach will pay greater dividends.
“In 2024, business travel is about more than just logistics and cost-cutting. It’s about maximising value and efficiency across your organisation,” explains Bonnie Smith, GM of FCM. “Rather than taking an indiscriminate, across-the-board approach to reducing travel spend, companies should focus on making strategic, intentional choices to ensure their travel investments provide the highest possible return.”
According to Smith, the report breaks down the following key trends that’ll shape business travel in 2024:
- Return to office driving policy updates
As remote and hybrid work lead to more in-office time, many companies are reinstating more formal travel rules. The flexibility of pandemic business travel is fading as more structured protocols are filling the gaps.
With routine business travel resuming in 2024 and a potentially tougher global travel market, well-defined policies will be the crutch for companies looking to control costs and maximise value, says Smith. Being ‘smarter’ means establishing clear travel goals, actively engage stakeholders on policy decisions, and outline approved travel styles, service classes, preferred vendors, and expense procedures for travellers.
- Demand growing for personalised travel experiences
Business travellers in 2024 will expect and demand experiences tailored to their personal preferences, needs, and schedules more and more. This isn’t about employee entitlement, but making people feel valued by considering their unique perspectives. To attract, keep, and engage talent, smart companies will need to shift from one-size-fits-all travel to personalised travel and lodging options, advises Smith.
While this approach requires more planning or support from a travel management partner, the benefits include higher traveller satisfaction, policy compliance, and cost savings from optimised booking behaviours.
- Sustainability becoming a priority
FCM’s research suggests sustainability will become a competitive edge and expectation in business travel in 2024. With sustainability efforts increasingly tied to attracting investors, customers and talent, travel managers will need to align policies and vendor partnerships accordingly. Proactive companies will set clear environmental goals, develop eco-friendly policies, use tech to track sustainability impact, offset travel emissions, and choose vendors with strong green practices.
- Shift to quality over quantity in negotiations
Corporate travel managers negotiating with vendors in 2024 will need to prioritise quality over quantity. Instead of securing as many supplier deals as possible, the focus will be on forging fewer, more impactful corporate agreements. Negotiations should focus not just on across-the-board price cuts, but also perks, incentives, and added value for travellers, suggests Smith.
- Resurgence of incentive travel
The report forecasts a strong comeback and growth for incentive travel programmes in 2024 as companies recognise their impact on employee motivation, retention, and culture. However, duty of care and thorough planning remain critical, advises Smith. Savvy travel managers will conduct careful risk assessments, vet potential destinations, and ensure appropriate support for travellers.
- AI and automation to enhance traveller experience
Integrating artificial intelligence and automation into managed travel programmes promises to boost efficiency, personalisation, quality assurance, and traveller satisfaction in 2024. By fully utilising data and predictive analytics, managers can inform strategic decisions and negotiate optimal agreements.
Virtual assistants can streamline booking, provide customised recommendations, and anticipate traveller needs. And AI-enabled systems can completely reimagine and personalise the travel search, booking, and trip management process. As Smith says, “The collaboration between human insight and AI will define the future of smart, efficient, and productive business travel.”