STRATEGY: Cultural Signals | Business Travel News

American Express Global Business Travel since 2021 has messaged that business travel had the potential to become the linchpin of modern company culture. The argument was that in a broadly diffuse workforce—driven away from centralized corporate offices by the pandemic—travel itself could serve as the connective tissue that not only would bring people together but also could deliver a sense of purpose and serve as a critical touchpoint to corporate culture, collaboration and productivity. 

A report published last March in collaboration with cultural insights and strategy firm Cultique outlined five areas where the mega travel management company believed travel programs would drive value in a remote-work world: company culture, worker well-being, professional development, employee empowerment and corporate values.

Flash forward to 2023 and the huge push to bring workers back to the office—Amazon, Apple, J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Salesforce, all included. Will this back-to-office mentality undermine the potential for travel to play a central cultural role in the organization?

Amex GBT Meetings and Events global VP Linda McNairy posits that it’s not just offsite gatherings for remote workers that are changing the culture of travel; it’s travel’s position as a requirement and fabric of the corporation.

“Organizations are realizing that as they ask employees to come back to the office, they are having to attract them there,” said McNairy. “Something similar is happening with travel. There was an older corporate culture of just accepting every policy: ‘It’s my employer, I have to do this’-type of mentality. Now people are saying, ‘I do have a voice in what matters to me,’ and organizations are listening. They acknowledge that travel can be part of that work-life trade-off that has become so important; that travel opportunities—and the personal and career development travel offers—can help balance out that back-to-office equation.”

Travel Programs as an Extension of the Workplace

According to BTN’s Traveler Experience Index survey, 83 percent of travelers said business travel was “important” or “very important” to the success of their current jobs. To McNairy’s point, 84 percent of respondents said business travel was “important” or “very important” to their job satisfaction.

Given that overwhelming perception of travel’s value as an enabler of productivity and success, the idea that a travel program serves as an extension of a supportive workplace isn’t a huge leap. As such, there’s an argument to be made that travel should integrate more seamlessly with human resources, technology and facilities management as departments that drive work enablement.

Yet, a number of travel managers during a World Travel, Inc. event in Philadelphia in April noted that those aspects of their travel programs don’t get as much play as they should—and neither do travelers themselves.

One corporate travel and expense supervisor at a publicly traded corporation based in Massachusetts confessed that travel policy and program ownership at the 14,000-employee company had bounced around in recent years from procurement to finance and to a blend of the two before landing in its current position with executive sourcing, which the buyer indicated was still an awkward fit.

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