An economic downturn or any likelihood of such an unfavourable situation is probably not a good time to indulge in a lot of spending, unless absolutely required. However, such slumps in the economic scenario cannot be wished away, as they are dependent on a host of external factors that are beyond our immediate control. In fact, the opposite is also true. The economy is very much dependent on healthy businesses for its revival. It is a reciprocal relationship that needs mutual nurturing.

As per widely discussed reports, unbalanced trade situations across the world have triggered an equally unbalanced economic environment. This threatens to shake the more or less stable ground that businesses have been operating on in the recent past. It means that companies will look for ways to cut down on seemingly deferrable expenses and business travel will be an obvious target.

Cutting business travel during financial crunch

Would cutting down on travel expenses serve the purpose of saving much-needed cash for business sustenance? Striking off unnecessary expenses are no doubt required. However, that said, relationships are a most important aspect for business growth. Without relationships being nurtured, customers and partners may turn elsewhere. And what better way to nurture relationships than to meet people in person?

We no longer reside in a world where services are priced in a one size fits all mode. The gig economy has ensured that we can travel, eat, work and bank easily with help of a smartphone. Today there are several cheaper or more reasonably priced alternatives to most services used by a business traveller. Low cost airlines, app-based taxis, home-stays and online food delivery services make it easier for us to access many essential services that were earlier centralized and therefore, not in plenty or available at a higher cost. This environment gives businesses multiple ways to control costs of essential business travel.
How can businesses ensure cost savings while sustaining necessary travel decisions?

Advance planning

Economical travel choices are much wider these days and such choices can be exercised better if planned in advance. Once the travel dates are decided, trip costs can be divided under heads such as travel, accommodation, food, local transport and others. For each head, cheaper options could be available if the travel is planned well in advance. Advance planning can be augmented by providing automation through adoption of tools. Self-booking tools, especially, can empower employees to make smarter decisions at the right time.

Empowering employees to make the right choices

Companies can allow for economical means of travel and accommodation to be integrated into the self-booking tool. This means asking your employees to select options that are comfortable, but cost-effective. This is where the gig economy has a meaningful role to play. There are several choices available to the business traveller that allows for personalization in addition to cost savings. Services such as Airbnb offer cheaper, yet comfortable stay, Uber and Lyft offer on-demand local transportation at lower costs and LCCs offer low-priced flights.

Being flexible

Airlines offer many options to travel at a lower cost. For example, flexible date airfares are a means to choose dates when cheaper fares are available. Smart airfare search through airline websites helps to identify discounted rates not available through online travel booking portals. Similarly, a booking engine that keeps track of fare dips can quickly update you about a possible rate drop, making it possible to trim travel costs.

Managing local transportation

There are several ways companies can encourage staff members to save on local transportation costs. Booking accommodation closer to the venue is often an overlooked but important decision. Another is the usage of app-based taxi services or tools that encourage travellers to book the nearest available transportation based on user ratings. Providing trains as an option for inland travel is another option to keep costs under check.

Balancing budgets and preferences

Allowing employees to mix and match travel preferences and helping them make sharper decisions will save money while retaining their productivity. A preference for staying in cheaper hotels while flying business class can be an example. If such options can be provided through an intelligent self-booking application while staying well within the framework of company policies and budgets, it could become a win-win proposition.

Motivation through incentives

It might be important to keep employees motivated to fly, sleep and dine within company budget while travelling for work. Incentives for smart travel decisions can be a useful tool when companies want to cut down on costs. When staff members stay well within budget and save money while travelling, they can be encouraged by adding back some of the cost savings to their next travel account. Similarly last minute bookings could be discouraged with deductions. A self-booking application helps here as well, by keeping track of each traveller’s spend and savings.

Direct relations with airlines and hotels

Corporate agreements with preferred hotels and airlines for discounted rates is an extremely useful tool. Online self-booking tools that can make these relations work in a seamless manner without manual interventions can be an added advantage both for the corporate and the employee.

Pruning travel costs rationally, instead of stopping all travel, helps to keep the business engine revved up and contributing even during economic downturns. In fact, such challenging periods are probably the right time for companies to start investing on processes and tools that can significantly increase efficiencies in employee travel management. In the current context, that would mean tools that promote digitization and employee self-service.