Is That Business Trip Justified? A 7-question Checklist

A watering can is hovering over a small plant. The plant is held in two hands below the can's spout. The image is meant to make us wonder if the plant will be watered.

I’ve yet to see a credible and scalable approach to estimating a business trip’s return on investment (ROI). So how do we know if a business trip should be taken?

Seems it’s always been a matter of judgment, a subjective call made with (usually) the best of intentions. Some trips are clearly justified; others are cloudier.

Today, it’s more important than ever to get these travel decisions right. We’re looking at tighter travel budgets, more acceptance of the virtual meeting, and greater concerns about the climate. We’re also keen to build the trust and relationship equity that’s deteriorated over the last two and a half years.

Here are seven questions to judge the merits of taking most any business trip. Answer any question with a “No” means you should skip the trip. Give each a “Yes”, and off you go with a clear conscience and a clearly justified trip.

  1. Is it clearly better to do this trip’s mission in person than by a virtual meeting?
  2. Are this trip’s risks to the traveler’s health, safety, and well-being acceptable to them and their employer?
  3. Will this trip’s impact on the climate be sufficiently mitigated?
  4. Will this trip’s success clearly help achieve an important goal?
  5. Will the traveler have one clearly value-adding role on this trip?
  6. Have specific goals or success criteria been established for this trip?
  7. Does the traveler expect to get a reasonably good return on the trip’s cost and their time?

Sure, your list of questions may be different, but it should cover all the issues raised above – the benefits of meeting in person, health and safety considerations, climate impact, criteria for success, and the prospect of a good ROI – even if we can’t measure it.

Join the discussion about this checklist here on LinkedIn, or drop some comments below.

White paper: “How We Meet Matters”

So many questions and so many answers about virtual versus in-person meetings.

“How We Meet Matters” cover page and contents

This 38-page white paper digs into big issues. How important is meeting in person to culture, teamwork, morale, and attrition risk? What’s the best-for-your-job mix of in-office and remote work? Do business leaders want to travel more or less? What’s the sustainability priority in their view?

And plenty more. With insights from 522 business leaders on how to decide which way to meet (hint: think about “meeting friction”, and three other factors.)

You’ll find new frameworks for managing travel and meetings much more strategically. (See this quick 10-question test of any company’s travel strategy, and Trip Tester, our new tool for ensuring travel is justified.)

You can register here for your free copy. If you like the paper, please share the registration link rather than the paper. You’ll make the sponsors happy. A big thank you to CWT, Cytric by Amadeus, and Delta Air Lines for supporting this high-quality research on these very timely topics.

How Good Is Your Travel Strategy?

Three trophy cups

You probably don’t know because your company doesn’t have one. Let’s fix that.

Companies are stuck managing travel in a tactical way. They focus on cost savings, duty of care, and traveler satisfaction. Fine and good in a pre-pandemic world. But not so good going forward.

Why? Because business travel is being reshaped by powerful forces. Its impact is being questioned; its risks have increased; its substitute, the virtual meeting, has gained a ton of advocates; its carbon emissions are growing increasingly unattractive.

No surprise that travel budgets are shrinking. Business travel is becoming a scarce resource. But because it is a vital ingredient for commercial success, it now needs to be managed strategically.

Goals Drive Strategy – So What Are The Goals?

Strategy 101 says that a strategy must be shaped by the desired goals. So let’s start by asking what the goals are in today’s modern travel program. Here’s a list of goals most companies might choose from, in no particular order:

  • Better recruiting and retention of road warriors
  • Better traveler health, safety, and wellbeing
  • Lower travel costs / bigger savings
  • Justified travel
  • Lower travel-related carbon emissions
  • More successful trips
  • Higher compliance to T&E policies
  • Higher levels of traveler satisfaction

Your list may look a bit different; fine. Take your list and go ask the travel budget owners (not the finance folks; not the procurement folks; not the HR and Risk folks) how they would have you prioritize the goals.

Remind them that if they prioritize everything, they prioritize nothing. Get them to either force-rank these goals, or choose their top two or three.

If they choose “Lower costs / bigger savings” as a high-priority goal, and they choose one or more of the traveler-centric goals, e.g., better traveler health, safety, and wellbeing, explain that those are conflicting goals. They’ll need to be really clear about their priorities.

Great Start – Now What?

Take a bow if you’ve been able to get a consensus about your travel program’s prioritized goals. It could not have been easy, but wow, is it a valuable accomplishment.

Now that you know the travel program’s prioritized goals, you’ll want to start building the supporting strategy. Start with a hard look at your travel policies, especially those that affect traveler friction. These include the cabin policy, the hotel quality, type of allowable ground transportation, requirements for extra connections (for lowest logical fares), etc.

If the top goals include more successful trips or any of the traveler-centric goals, you’ll want travel policies that minimize traveler friction. Yes, these trips will be more expensive, but that’s a cost of pursuing those goals.

There is a lot more work to be done to build up a strategically valuable travel program – more on this later. Meanwhile, here is a 10-question test that shows the other elements that go into a strong travel strategy.

Justifiable Travel Made Easy

It’s hard to imagine a strategically valuable travel program that doesn’t advocate for justifiable travel. tClara is introducing Trip Tester, a travel justification tool, at the GBTA Convention on November 17th. Stop by Booth #1916 for a demo, or ping me at scott@tclara.com for a demo.

About Google Flight’s New CO2 Display

Google Flights now displays a carbon emission (CO2) estimate for most flights.

Folks, this is a game changer because it brings flight-related emissions data to the shopping table on a scale that reaches millions of flight shoppers.

Google Flight display for Seattle to London, one way on Nov.1st 2021

Not only is Google Flight’s CO2 data credible and easy to understand, it is easy to see which flight is better or worse, and by how much. This has big implications, namely:

  • Leisure and unmanaged business travelers will become accustomed to seeing this data. Many will use it to select their flights, making CO2 data part of the “consumer experience”.
  • Business travelers who shop first on Google Flights before booking in the OBT/TMC channel will get used to seeing this data. Many will use it to select their flights.
  • Travel managers will be expected by travelers and their executives to provide booking tools that provide flight-specific CO2 data.
    • This will create a standards problem, unless the booking tools use the same CO2 model as does Google Flights. More on this below.
  • Airlines will feel pressure to improve their CO2 metrics as they appear in Google Flights, especially if Google is successful at making its CO2 model a free resource to others, as it says it plans to do.
  • Unfortunately, it will reinforce the belief that premium seats, e.g., business class, should be allocated more CO2 per passenger than economy seats. This belief is wrong, and leads to more flight emissions, not less.

Insights About Google Flight’s CO2 model

Google’s CO2 model calculations are based on the European Environmental Agency (EEA) framework 3.1a, published in 2019, and some of its related data sources, including the BADA flight emissions model, which may use 2016 aircraft and engine data. The EEA framework is described here. Google apparently uses the Tier 3A approach, described on page 25. Google also uses data from other sources, including those from airlines and other sources to obtain the aircraft models and seating configurations.

Some things that caught my eye about Google’s approach:

More connections don’t necessarily mean more emissions. Note in the exhibit above that a 2-stop flight (circled in blue) has less emissions than the one-stop flight below it.

There seems to be no adjustment made for a flight’s passenger load factor or cargo weight, nor for the actual in-flight routing or actual gate-to-gate time. Factoring in these variables would make the model more accurate, IF the model was given each flight’s actual data. This data is practically impossible to get pre-flight. Other flight CO2 models may include these variables by making good-faith estimates, but they are still estimates, and probably a good example of providing false precision. Google’s approach is good enough.

That said, Google uses a traditional method for allocating more CO2 to premium economy, business and first class seats, based on the square footage of these types of seats. I’ll take another tilt at the windmill by saying again this is fundamentally wrong, and harmful to the climate.

Moving on. A flight’s emissions are shown as better or worse based on the other flights’ emissions for the same O&D, the same route, and the same cabin, and the same day(s) of travel. If a flight’s emissions are within 5%, plus or minus, of the median emission value, it is marked as “average”. Users can sort the itineraries based on CO2, so it makes it easy to pick the least-emitting flight.

Google says it plans to make its model available to the travel industry for free via the Travelyst coalition. It would be even better if Google published an API tomorrow to let anyone consume their calculations. The quicker the travel industry coalesces around flight and hotel CO2 calculation methods, the better. Until then, expect travelers to be confused about seeing significantly different emission estimates for the same flight. Confusion leads quickly to distrust, which is not what we want on this issue.

Innovation Opportunities

A few quick thoughts on how this platform could be put to even better use:

  • Change the basis of allocating CO2 from the seat’s size, to the amount of CO2 emitted for the weight of the seat, its passenger and the passenger’s luggage, per square foot.
  • Publish an API so anyone could consume these calculations (as mentioned above).
  • Integrate this CO2 data into your corporate booking tool.
  • Use the API and your TMC’s historical booking data for your program to set a 2019 baseline of flight emissions. Better, have the bright folks at Thrust Carbon or eco.mio do the heavy lifting, and enable ways to make offsetting easy and ethical.
  • Update the analytical modeling to use more current data on engine emissions.
  • For those concerned about the accuracy of the CO2 estimates, lobby for the airlines to publish for every flight the
    • Amount of fuel consumed;
    • Cargo weight;
    • Passenger and baggage weight;
    • Passenger load factor (wishful thinking).

Flight emissions will only grow in importance. It’s good to see Google enabling better decisions on this front.

Why We Need To Fly Business Class

If your company is committed to reducing its airline-related carbon emissions, you need to start by re-thinking your cabin policy. This is the single-most important factor in a travel program’s impact on travel-related emissions.

It turns out that flying business class is better for the climate than flying economy class. Hard to believe, right? I was guilty of promoting the business-class is-bad belief back in 2007 when I led the development of TRX’s groundbreaking airline carbon emissions model. Chalk it up to some lazy thinking on my part, and please accept my apologies.

I make the new case why we need to fly business class in this Op-Ed at Business Travel News: https://www.businesstravelnews.com/Management/Why-We-Need-to-Fly-Business-Class

Yes, the optics of adopting a business class cabin policy will be tough to overcome, but if your company is serious about reducing its airline-related emissions, it is the right way to go. Comments welcome here and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6830486638385233920/

Lower Costs and Successful Trips Matter Most

“Which of these four travel-related goals is most important to your senior management?”

The answer?  Lower travel costs is the most important goal, while more successful trips came in a very close second, according to the survey tClara just ran.

If you group the three non-cost goals into something like “Travel Impact Goals”, you see that this group gets a total of 58% of the top goal choices.  So while lower costs may have squeaked out a first-place finish, I’d say that cost takes a back seat to business impact.

I’ll go further by wondering how many travel buyers really, truly know their senior management’s top travel-related goal. Continue reading

Webinar: Building the Case for Better Travel

Wow.  This article that challenges the importance of savings is one of the most popular ones I’ve ever written.

Still, the question is can you really afford to focus on the benefits of travel, rather than on the cost?

The good folks at Prime Services and I will show how build a business case for better travel using my Travel Policy Impact model. We’ll walk through the data you need and the assumptions you have to make, and show the ROI as we go.

You’ll see how easy it is to estimate the costs, and how to make reasonable assumptions about the benefits.  Travel Policy Impact 101, here we come!

The webinar starts at 1:30 pm EDT on Thursday, March 15th.  You can register for your free seat here. I hope you’ll join us.

Prime Services is a division of Prime Numbers Technology.  Kate Saab and Robin Carter will co-host this session with me. You can download the Travel Policy Impact model and the User’s Guide from within this post.

Making the Business Case for Better Travel

The most common question I get after speaking about the benefits of reducing traveler friction is “OK, we get the idea, but how are we supposed to sell this to senior management?”

Here’s the answer:

The whole idea is to balance the costs and the benefits of better business travel, right?  So that means we need a way to quantify those things, in a way that makes sense to senior management.

The good news is that there is now enough research out there to help us frame the question with some clear logic and pretty good assumptions.

Gillespie’s Travel Policy Impact Model

I’ve developed a simple – and free – approach that any travel buyer can put to work right away. It’s an Excel model (see below) that asks you to fill in 16 things.  Do that, and you’ll see the results. Your results could look like this:

“If we spend an extra $35K per road warrior to give them better quality, lower-friction trips, we’ll get back a net gain of $90K each, for an ROI of about 260%”

Credibility Is Key

Travel managers,  you’ll be able to plug 10 of the 16 data things into the Cost section pretty much off the top of your heads.  You’ll probably need help with the 6 things in the Benefits section. Continue reading

A Challenge To My Travel Procurement Friends

 Is it time to think about your category goals for 2018?  Yep.

Are you hoping to somehow increase the size of your savings next year?  Of course.   Are you optimistic about meeting that goal?  Probably not.

Would you like to show senior management that you’re adding significant strategic value to the travel category? That your approach is fundamentally aligned with the needs of the business?  Therein lies my challenge.

For the last 20 years, travel procurement has measured its success by the size of its savings. Travel procurement takes the path of least resistance, happy to measure what’s easiest – ticket prices, room rates, TMC transaction fees, and the all-important discount.

This traditional cost-focused goal is no longer sufficient.  It’s not strategic, and it isn’t sustainable. Travel procurement needs a bigger, bolder goal.

Step 1: Understand The Cost of Traveler Friction

Continue reading