It seems there is finally some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, at least in some parts of the world. In 2020, global business travel took a major hit but much has changed since then, largely thanks to good progress with vaccination efforts. Companies are bringing employees back to the office with executives planning in-person meetings and gatherings with customers and colleagues.
Covid-19 impacted everyone but particularly SMEs (small and medium enterprises) who play a vital role in the economy by employing between 50 and 60 per cent of the workforce in the formal and informal sectors. Despite facing mounting challenges in a sluggish economy, SMEs in South Africa are among the first to bring business travel back to 'normal'.
This is further bolstered by the South African tourism industry receiving a welcome boost when South Africa was moved to Adjusted Alert Level One on the 8th of October, 2021. Considering the importance of SMEs for economic growth, their resilience is something to behold which is why they are leading the way in post-Covid business travel.
Small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are more agile, flexible, and not limited by legacy systems which put them in an ideal position post-Covid. SMEs are seemingly less risk-averse in the post-COVID world especially compared to larger, corporate companies. There are several reasons SMEs are leading the way in normalising business as they don't have much of a choice.
United CEO, Scott Kirby said: "Business travel is about relationships; it is not about transactions”. It's hard to argue his statement as SMEs are travelling because they can’t survive without it. Unlike larger organisations, SMEs don't have a big financial buffer or rainy-day fund so they need to get back to normal as fast as possible.
With SMEs relying more on building relationships through face-to-face meetings, negotiating deals, and exploring opportunities to develop a competitive edge, this can prove rather challenging on virtual meetings and events.
SMEs will start enjoying corporate travel before large companies as the bigger the organisation, the more sophisticated the travel plans and processes. Most of them have to get approvals before travelling and they often play it safer than SMEs since they are not as flexible which only adds to the complexity of post-Covid business travel.
As such, small business owners are ahead of the curve and will be able to visit overseas customers if that location opens up for business travel. This is where travel experts and Travel Management Companies (TMCs), such as TravelManor, will play an increasingly important role. TMCs help business travellers select the best routes, find the best fares while sourcing safe, fully vetted accommodation and identify any areas where they can save.
While traditional travel agents will typically deal with occasional leisure travel advice and bookings, a travel management company can provide ongoing services to provide cost savings, keep control of a travel policy and help the customer avoid time-consuming travel arrangements. Here are some of the many ways a TMC like TravelManor can help SMEs.
Regardless of how big or small the SME is, they can all benefit from a simple travel policy. This will help avoid staff from self-booking flights and accommodation which makes cost control so much easier. Travel management companies can provide SMEs with the necessary guidance on designing and implementing a policy, including recommended fares and accommodation that better suits their individual needs.
Another major benefit of using a TMC is its impressive buying power and general business relationships. It's these connections that help secure the best available rates and exclusive deals often out of reach for SMEs with an unmanaged travel programme. As mentioned in the previous section, TMCs can identify areas where the customer can save whether it's travelling at off-peak hours, using serviced apartments instead of hotels or finding loyalty schemes with airlines, hotels and restaurants.
While SMEs may be more flexible in decision-making and their ability to expedite business travel arrangements, that does not mean staff well-being and duty of care take a back seat. This continues to be a focal point regardless of company size or type as they care as much about the safety of their staff as any big multi-national organisation do.
As business travellers are entering a more dynamic environment with different destinations easing or reintroducing lockdown measures, a travel expert can help. Not only do TMCs provide you with the latest information and advice but they also track travellers so they can be brought home quickly if necessary.
While certainly important, the duty of care extends beyond Covid-19 as a TMC's biggest responsibility is bringing their clients home safely. This includes the following services:
A professional, experienced travel management company can help SMEs with pre-trip preparations, support travellers while travelling and determine what worked and what might need improvement post-trip. By working together, the TMC can provide the SME with a tailormade business travel plan based on past experience and additional requirements.
By working with a reputable travel management company, SMEs also get access to the latest technology. This includes new-generation, AI-enhanced online booking systems that are faster and more intuitive. That means business travellers can search for and book a large range of services in no time at all saving valuable time and money in the process.
Domestic business travel in South Africa has already reached 30% of pre-Covid levels with SMEs leading the way. It seems the small business owners are doing their part so it’s now up to airlines, hotels, TMCs and other travel suppliers to support them with the right product, service and pricing to exceed their business travel expectations.