Have business travelers who regularly go rogue? Can’t get them to book their hotel on the online booking tool? Disappointed by the numbers of your travel program’s compliance rate? You certainly aren’t alone. Noncompliance is a problem travel managers (TM) all over the world are up against, as evidenced by an international study American Express Global Business Travel produced in collaboration with GfK, a German research firm.

The report, “Traveler 360°,” for which business travelers in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, Singapore and India were surveyed, explores the state of business travel across the globe. It was discovered that the majority of travelers from every single country, with the exception of the U.S., fail to book in policy all of the time. And even though there are more Americans following the rules, there are still many who don’t, with 40 percent neglecting to make compliant bookings each time.

Why is noncompliant behavior such a pervasive issue?

When we asked business travelers about the top reasons they ignore company policy, it boiled down to two factors: location and their own personal well–being. Specifically, most travelers say it’s acceptable to stray from policy if it means they’re in a hotel that’s closer to the meeting or business event venue, in a more convenient location overall or if it means they are in a safer location. (TMs may consider polling their own travelers to find out what their rationale for going rogue is.)

Travelers polled in our survey found other justifications for booking outside the policy — from staying at a better quality hotel to flying with their preferred air carrier — to be perfectly acceptable as well, which means TMs need to work harder at correcting these misperceptions.

How can TMs fix travelers misguided policy beliefs?

Well, they can start with increasing travelers’ familiarity with the existing policy.

From the survey results, there seems to be a lack of awareness, with roughly a quarter of travelers from the U.S., U.K., France and Australia saying they are not “extremely familiar” or “very familiar” with their travel policy.

Of the seven different groups polled, Singaporean travelers have the least familiarity (only 60 percent are either “extremely familiar” or “very familiar”) — which is why it’s not so surprising that Singaporeans also are the least likely to book in policy all of the time, with only 21 percent saying they do so.

From the study, it also was revealed that business travelers who say they are “extremely familiar” with their company’s business travel and expense reporting policy are much more likely to adhere to it than those who are “very” or “somewhat familiar.” Thus, educating employees about the policy and expectations is a critical move toward boosting compliant bookings.

Interestingly, though, Indians, who say they are the most versed with their travel policy (90 percent report they are “extremely” or “very familiar” with it) are also among the top three groups of travelers to go rogue, with only 34 percent booking in policy all of the time, just behind Singaporeans (21 percent) and Germans (33 percent). One reason that may be? Perhaps it’s related to their lenient travel policies. Fifty-three percent of Indian travelers polled describe their guidelines as “lax.”

Conversely, 74 percent of Americans report their companies have “strict” policies — the highest among the seven countries — and are also most likely to always book in policy. The correlation extends to the other countries as well. With the exception of Indians, travelers who describe their policies as strict are more likely to comply.

According to the poll, Singaporean and Indian travelers in particular could be motivated to stick to the policy if given incentives, such as a certain percentage of money they save on travel, additional paid time off and reward points — and they are unlikely to comply without them. To a lesser extent, travelers in the U.K., France, Germany and Australia also say they’d be influenced by incentives, with a third of Americans saying they do not need them at all.

Another piece of the noncompliance puzzle: how these policies are — or rather aren’t — being construed by travelers. Respondents from most countries say the company does not have a clear policy for business travel and expense reporting, with French and Germans (59 and 58 percent, respectively) leading the pack. Americans again were the outlier, with only 21 percent believing their existing policies are ambiguous.

To improve policy understanding, TMs may benefit from getting feedback from their travelers about which sections are perceived as vague and make changes accordingly.

Power of trip approvers

There’s one other factor that likely is having an impact on compliance: those who are approving the trips. According to the survey results, most travelers in all seven countries not only must obtain approval on their itinerary, expense reports or both, but more than three-quarter of travelers in all countries except the U.S. also mirror the behavior their approver models to them. Trip approvers, usually department heads, also can have an effect on travelers’ ability to take bleisure trips, how enjoyable the trips are and how much money is saved.

With trip approvers having a large influence on travelers’ behavior, they can be instrumental allies to TMs, enforcing compliant behavior.

Now a recap

Based on the results of the study, here are the steps to take to boost compliance:

  • Find out and dispel any misperceptions your travelers may have about why it’s OK to veer from the policy.
  • Educate your travelers about the policy until they become “extremely familiar” with it. (Here’s a guide to get you started.)
  • Consider how lax or strict your current policy is and lean toward the latter type.
  • At the same time, consider giving your travelers incentives, such as paid time off or a percentage of the money they save on travel, as motivation.
  • Review your policy with travelers to tweak any vague language and rules so they are very simple to follow.
  • Have managers approving trips deliver the compliance message.

Finally, while the issue of noncompliance is universal, how TMs should go about attacking it is not. Travelers from different countries will respond differently, so TMs may want to take into account cultural variations when devising their own strategies to eradicate noncompliant behavior.

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