The travel sector took a big hit during the Covid-19 pandemic and while it seems to be improving, international travel is still lagging compared to pre-pandemic levels. However, business travel agencies, airlines, hotels and car rental companies have reported a bigger increase in travel for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) compared to larger organisations. In this article, we explore the boost in business travel and why SEMs are leading the comeback.
While travel management companies have reported a marked increase in travel for SMEs, it’s also presented some new challenges. Small to medium-sized enterprises may have eliminated many Covid-19-related travel restrictions but they are now confronted with higher pricing and bargaining difficulties.
Compared to bigger organisations, small and medium businesses have to be frugal which may have played a part in the faster recovery. It makes sense as large corporations often have a bigger budget but not all of their trips are essential so they've had to reduce the number of international flights.
On the opposite end are SMEs who may need to travel more as their business depends on it. Smaller organisations often also have fewer corporate layers than global conglomerates in terms of travel policies and risk.
Although you may think the increase in business travel is due to more employees returning to the office, many are still working from home or following a hybrid setup. Another consideration is the good progress made in terms of vaccinations across the globe, including in South Africa.
SMEs are dealing with issues comparable to those of larger organisations as more internal travel is being done to make up for fewer in-person office interactions. Many SMEs are planning extended business trips combining team meetings and client meetings or arranging several client meetings during the same period.
According to Terri Buscemi, American Express Global Business Travel VP of business development; “That’s different than a few years ago when we had a lot of same-day turnarounds.”
Although some small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) had already transitioned to hybrid or remote workplaces, the pandemic amplified the pressure on SMEs to offer such travel arrangements. If they didn't, they could be at a disadvantage for recruitment.
Startups in the tech industry have been increasingly prevalent lately, and they face many obstacles like raising money and getting their businesses off the ground. They also need to get their teams together so that everyone can collaborate effectively and make plans.
Like in bigger organisations, the people going on business trips for SMEs are also gradually changing. Now, more engineers, product and marketing staff are travelling for work.
The decrease in corporate travel could see a positive impact on SME business travel. According to David Mitchell, president of BCD Travel Mid-Market and World Travel Service:
“People were quick to relocate, if the message was that the office was closing, so we’re seeing more demand for small meetings and doing things like training. In the SME segment, that business is booming.”
As businesses experience an influx in travel numbers, they are increasingly looking to outsource their travel management or seek outside help for major events in particular; something TravelManor can help SMEs with.
Of the SMEs pursuing managed business travel, many are from an "unmanaged" background. This means they were using multiple booking websites and realised they needed duty of care, policy oversight and assistance in managing unused tickets and the complexities of trying to deal with certain suppliers.
The reason SMEs look at managed business travel could be attributed to one of many factors but it's often due to the following:
The current increase in travel disruptions with longer delays, more cancellations, customer service waiting times and suppliers dealing with their own return-to-travel difficulties is adding fuel to the fire.
Right now, it seems the motivation is more about having a one-stop shop for business travel rather than controlling costs. Most SMEs simply want someone they can trust and with the right type of experience to take over the responsibility of making all the travel arrangements.
The boost in SME travel is a big opportunity for travel management companies and the upward trend is likely to continue. The recent travel challenges are also making more SMEs realise that they need more than a good platform; they need a business travel partner. One of the main reasons is that a business needs to know what travellers are doing, where they are and have some control over the process.
If you need a travel management company to handle all of your business travel needs while you focus on running your company, contact TravelManor and find out more about our corporate travel-planning services.