Getting ready for your next business trip? To help you prepare for safe travels, we’ve put together a checklist that outlines the considerations travelers should take into account as they map out and plan their next journey. It includes everything from which questions to ask when choosing an airline carrier to what features to look for in a hotel as well as tips when opting to travel by ground.

Click the image below to view the checklist and learn what you can do to maximize your safety and well-being at every step of your next trip.

Many hotel brands have introduced enhanced safety and cleaning protocols over the last few months, but guests should also take extra precautions to maintain their well-being during an overnight stay.

To help you prepare for your next hotel stay, we’ve compiled a checklist designed to keep you safe throughout the entire duration of your visit, from check-in to checkout.

Click the image below to view the checklist and discover what you can do to maintain your safety while lodging at your home away from home.

Airports around the world have implemented rigorous cleaning and security protocols to minimize health risks, but travelers also should be taking extra safety precautions to maintain their well-being.

To help you prepare for a safe takeoff, we’ve assembled a checklist of safety tips to practice at the airport. It includes everything from how to plan your arrival to what to consider when collecting your luggage and exiting the airport at the other end.

Click the image below to access our airport safety checklist and learn what actions you can take to protect yourself while waiting to board your next flight.

Concerns about travelers’ well-being and cost management have renewed travel managers’ focus on improving policy compliance and program guidelines, and many organizations are in the midst of adapting and strengthening their travel programs.

To help companies boost policy compliance and program effectiveness, Terri Buscemi, vice president for business development at American Express Global Business Travel, recently wrote an article for PhocusWire that lays out six actions companies can take to optimize their travel budgets and encourage travelers to toe the line.

Click here to read the PhocusWire article.

As corporate travel teams get their accommodation programs ready for the future, here are seven areas to assess to help keep travelers safe and obtain the best value:

  1. Shore up duty of care gaps.

To help traveling employees during a disruption, you must know where they are heading. Travel risk management technology can enable security teams to locate and communicate with potentially impacted travelers quickly. However, in order for it to be effective, business travelers need to book all segments of their trip, including their hotel stay, using the approved booking channels so that complete itinerary information gets captured. Problems can arise when business travelers opt to book directly with hotel brands or via online travel agencies. Therefore, a large part of bolstering duty of care is about bolstering policy compliance.

  1. Adapt and promote your accommodation policy.

When repatriations efforts began a few months ago, a number of companies encountered difficulties locating travelers who had booked outside the approved booking channels. To avoid this issue moving forward, some companies are shifting to a mandated program, making booking via the approved channels mandatory.

Even if a mandated program isn’t right for your company, hotel compliance is essential to duty of care, so set the right tone by consistently communicating to traveling employees about how adherence benefits them and debunk the myths they may have about managed programs. For instance, some travelers book directly with hotels because they mistakenly believe they will not earn loyalty points if they book through the company tool. Not true. Most company tools do offer loyalty points, unless the rate specifically doesn’t offer it.

Through our Rest Assured Solutions, a comprehensive collection of accommodations products and services, we offer our travelers over 2 million properties, including inventory from Booking.com, Expedia, and alternative lodging options, so we have content that satisfies all types of traveler types and preferences.

  1. Revisit your supplier engagement and strategy.

With hotels offering steeply discounted rates to entice guests back to their properties, a number of travel managers are planning to negotiate rate reductions this year with preferred suppliers through to the end of 2021. Others, heeding the advice of the Global Business Travel Association, are postponing the hotel request for proposal (RFP) until 2021.

According to a recent Skift article, some travel and procurement directors moving ahead with RFPs are seeking “dual-rate loading” with fixed and dynamic pricing in place for their top properties. This gives corporate clients the best of both worlds – the security of having a spend cap while also having the ability to take advantage of price drops. Travel buyers also may negotiate other favorable terms appropriate for these times, such as flexible cancellation and refund policies.

  1. Prepare travelers for their hotel stay.

When companies send employees back on the road, travelers will have a preference to stay in hotels with high safety and hygiene standards. So speak to suppliers about the cleaning and health measures they have implemented and what they are doing to prioritize guest safety since consistent standards across properties will be key to instilling traveler confidence.

Hilton, for example, is creating a contactless experience for guests, enabling them to check in, open their guest room door, and control the room temperature, lights, and TV all through its app. Marriott is using electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfectant to sanitize surfaces while other hotels have begun employing UV light sanitizing technology.

You also may want to explore contactless payments technology to eliminate the need for physical credit cards. With our Virtual Payment ExpertÔ solution, hotel transactions can be paid digitally using a secure virtual card number.

  1. Redesign service and technology around new needs.

To reduce the risk that comes when employees book outside company-approved channels, companies are leaning into services and technology that help drive hotel policy compliance. Pre-trip approval technology that automatically flags bookings made outside the policy can easily prevent noncompliant travel. An online booking tool that enables you to create custom policy notifications and whose algorithm prioritizes preferred suppliers could be helpful too.

You also may want to test out our complimentary Trip Recommender™ solution. It automatically sends messages to travelers who have not booked a hotel with their flight reservation and offers up to three click-to-book accommodation options based on a traveler’s previous behaviors and preferences, so you can naturally boost hotel attachment without.

  1. Redefine hotel program value.

With an increased emphasis on cost savings and efficiencies, companies are carefully reviewing their hotel partners to shift share and optimize spend when possible.

Increasingly, program value will be defined by factors beyond cost savings. For 2021, travel buyers will have a dual focus on cost containment and increased safety and security. This may mean working with hotels to implement more flexible cancellation policies to allow for sudden travel changes as well as selecting brands with enhanced cleaning protocols. Further, if a property has halted the buffet breakfast usually included in the corporate rate to reduce risk exposure, there may be other meal options, such as a “grab and go” offering, instead. If not, travel buyers will be negotiating rate reductions.

  1. Evaluate your data and reporting capabilities.

Organizations should do a thorough assessment of their reporting tools to make sure they support their hotel attachment and duty of care goals. A robust data analytics solution can help travel managers quickly identify the source of leakage, down to the traveler level, so you can address the problem head-on. The data analytics reports also can be shared with business unit leaders so they are aware of noncompliant activities and can follow up directly with policy violators.

Having hotel data will become more essential in the months ahead since you will need to understand your company’s travel activities and price fluctuations to prepare volume commitments and budgets. If you need tailored hotel advice or help with forecasting trends, we are here to help.

Contact our Global Business Consulting team.

To learn more about how our Rest Assured Solutions can help you protect traveling employees, check out our new “Duty of Care: Key to Your Accommodations Program” e-book.

In the wake of COVID-19, cleaning and safety standards have become one of the most important deciding factors in selecting a hotel. In order for business travelers to feel comfortable with an overnight stay, they will need to trust that the hotel is doing everything in its power to keep them safe.

Responding to consumers’ heightened expectations regarding hygiene, our partner Hilton has created a series of enhanced cleaning and health standards dubbed Hilton CleanStay. To find out more about the program, we spoke with Phil Cordell, global head of new brand development for Hilton, who is the brains behind the initiative.

Consistency breeds confidence. Confidence stimulates demand. What work have you done to make sure standards are consistent across your property portfolio? And how are you taking an industry-wide approach to making sure the accommodation sector is working toward consistent standards?

Back in March when COVID-19 started to be on everyone’s radar screen in a front and center way, we recognized that customers would have increased expectations for cleanliness and how they would experience a hotel. We wanted to take a leadership position on this early on and did some work with the AHLA (American Hotel & Lodging Association) to provide input on what ultimately would become the guidelines that AHLA has now shared across the U.S. for hotels to consider.

This was an opportunity to take those insights and drill down on the ones we felt were most important and make them brand standards. CleanStay, which is the result of that project, looks across the entire spectrum of the guest experience, from arrival to checkout, and highlights the areas we felt would make the biggest difference based on our own insights and feedback from customers.

The CleanStay package now is a series of brand standards required globally across all 18 brands in 103 countries and more than 6,100 hotels. Because it’s a brand mandate, it is something the hotels have to do. We have multiple monitoring programs in place and we have quality assurance processes and guest feedback systems that help us monitor compliance.

What are some of the new health and traveler safety measures you’ve put in place?

To give you a few examples: In the commercial spaces – elevators, lobbies, etc. – we have distancing decals and guidelines in place. As we think about the guest room, probably the most intimate area where guests are concerned, in addition to thoroughly cleaning the room, we are reinforcing what we call the “top 10 hot spots” – the areas that are most frequently touched, such as the remote control, light switches, and toilet flush handle. Those 10 hot spots we now cover a second time in the cleanliness process with Lysol products. Lysol is our partner in CleanStay. It has been around for 130 years and stands for “protection” in the eyes of our customers. It was just announced that the EPA has approved Lysol as an effective disinfectant against COVID-19.

Another step we take: When the room attendant leaves after cleaning the room, they place a seal on the door to indicate that the room hasn’t been accessed since it was cleaned and is broken by the guest when they enter the room for the first time.

(To view all the cleaning and safety standards of the CleanStay program, click here.)

How well are hotels adopting these measures? How receptive have hotels been?

Since we’re in 103 countries, we’ve discovered there are a few nuances where the hotels may have to take our global policy and adjust it slightly for local needs.

But for an initiative that really didn’t launch until early April, to be able to have it implemented now on a global perspective, we’re very pleased and proud. We should do anything we can to help give guests confidence and help them feel that it’s okay to travel. So certainly hotels have been anxious to implement and have done a great job.

Do you have any contactless technology to help keep guests safe?

We offer several contactless experiences for guests. Through the Hilton Honors app (at participating hotels), they can use their mobile devices to check in and check out, choose their own room, and access their room with Digital Key. With the Digital Key technology, they also can open any door they’d normally access with a key card, such as elevators, side doors, and the fitness center. Select Hilton hotels also have Connected Room technology, which allows guests to use the Hilton Honors app to manage most things they would traditionally do manually in a guest room – from controlling the temperature and lighting to the TV and window coverings.

Although this is not yet a brand standard, we also have a number of hotels now that have their food and beverage offerings available on digital screens and guests can use QR codes to order their meal.

What kind of new hygiene training or guidelines has there been for the staff?

As a result of the elevated protocols, we have new housekeeping training and checklists that help guide the team members to deliver on the enhanced CleanStay standards.

Every day in housekeeping, we do a team huddle – socially distanced – that helps bring the team up to date on any of the latest developments unique to their hotel about local guidelines or safety.

Another layer not directly tied to hygiene training but tied to the hospitality side of cleaning: Our hotels are now implementing what we call “alternative methods of hospitality.” So think about traditionally when you walk into a hotel, you’re greeted by someone with a smile or handshake. Obviously, that doesn’t happen in this world when team members are now wearing facial coverings and personal contact through a handshake doesn’t really work. So hotels are beginning to deliver kind of alternative forms of hospitality and gestures, such as a hand over the heart, bowing, and peace signs, to deliver a hint of hospitality. So, that’s been a part of their training too.

Is there any final thing you’d like to share about what guests can expect about their experience that would instill confidence and make them feel more comfortable?

As providers, all we can do is build an enhanced baseline to help customers feel comfortable so that when they are ready to travel, they’ll have the confidence to do so. It’s about helping them understand in a very transparent way what we’re doing. And that’s kind of what CleanStay is all about – to be able to talk to them and say, “Here are the things we’re doing that are different or more enhanced than what you’ve expected before.”

The information is communicated multiple times. From the time guests make a reservation to when they are actually at the hotel, they are reminded about the extra efforts we’ve taken.

Certainly, hotels have always been about clean, but a lot of what we’ve done may have happened behind the scenes or with products that customers might not be familiar with. We’ve used a lot of product that is medical grade, but it’s a product that customers aren’t really familiar with. The feedback we received from customers was: “Hey, I use Lysol at home and that’s what helps me feel comfortable.”

So the fact that we’re using that same product also helps give them a stronger sense of confidence.

Across our guest loyalty program, Hilton Honors, we continue to implement adjustments to provide maximum flexibility to instill confidence across our more than 106-million-member community – from the contactless technology available through our Hilton Honors app to the status, Points, and 2020 rollover-night extensions we’ve granted to help them maintain or upgrade their status while their travels are limited. And through our Hilton Honors American Express credit cards, we have also provided enhancements to support card members – such as counting Bonus Points earned through eligible purchases (like that large grocery bill!) as Base Points through the end of the year to help members achieve elite status even faster.

If you’re like many travel managers in the midst of modifying your travel program to prepare for changes ahead, one area you should focus on is how to optimize the technology stack your program is powered by.

The first step to creating the ultimate toolset is to conduct an inventory of every single solution your company currently relies on to power its travel program. Since this may include mobile apps, products, and services used by other departments, you’ll want to get input from other stakeholders to help ensure nothing is missed. With each service, include the key functions, benefits, vendor relationship manager, and how it fits into your business travel experience.

Once you have a comprehensive list, use the questions below to assess if each one is still of value to your program given the current climate. You may find that tools that were important to your goals in the past are no longer providing value. You can also use these questions as a guide when vetting new technology.

Are there any redundancies?

In reviewing your tech stack, you may realize there is an overlap between technologies that are performing similar functions, especially if multiple business units are using different solutions to do the same thing. This often occurs with travel, meetings, and events activities. To prevent duplication and eliminate inefficiencies, work with other stakeholders to help ensure there’s no overlap between your existing tech. If there is, it may be smart to consolidate.

Does each tool provide consumer-grade user experience?

Now it’s time to look at the tech tools from the point of view of the people who are using them. Don’t just consider it from travelers and travel managers’ perspectives but all teams that touch travel, such as finance, IT, and security. For deeper insights, solicit feedback from these groups directly. You can ask about which tools they use the most and least, the challenges they may be facing, how easy the tech is to use and how it performs, and if they see room for improvement.

Are there any gaps in our tech stack?

To help figure out this answer, define your program goals and determine if your current stack is meeting them. For instance, do you have tools to adequately support all elements of your duty of care program or have you discovered weak spots? Do you have automated services and robust data analytics to drive savings on travel costs? Are you easily communicating, engaging, and educating travelers? Once you’ve identified the holes, you can begin searching for new solutions.

How would you rate the tech providers?

In addition to the tech itself, look at the actual service and customer experience the provider is giving. Does the vendor offer user training to drive adoption and quarterly product road maps? Is it able to customize its tech to fit your program’s needs? Does the provider have any travel expertise to understand the industry’s unique challenges? With what’s going on in the travel space right now, it’s also important to look at the stability of a company and if it can adapt to the times ahead.

What kind of data security protections does your tech stack have in place?

Data security and privacy have been increasingly top of mind for travel programs, which traditionally handle sensitive information like passport or credit card numbers. Going forward, it’s possible that your program will now need to store health information as well, such as immunization records for COVID-19 or temperature readings. Health data privacy is regulated differently from other personal information. For instance, in the United States health privacy is protected by HIPAA, which regulates how organizations store and transfer health data information.

When you evaluate new providers, consider how data security is built into the DNA of the company you’re considering. Ask how they adhere to data privacy law, like the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR), and how they maintain data privacy standards for new fields.

Do the tools in your stack work cohesively?

From this exercise, you may realize just how many different tools your program employs, which may be creating a disjointed user experience. A tech stack built with tools that are interconnected through integrations and APIs so they can “talk” to each other can help reduce this friction. If the user experience and program management are suffering from fragmentation, you may need a larger overhaul and may wish to speak to your travel management company about an integrated suite of tools.

As you further evaluate your stack, here are some travel tech essentials that will be beneficial in this current climate:

  • Pre-trip approval: A tool that can monitor for and flag bookings that involve travel to high-risk destinations and require a designated approver to accept or reject a trip before it can be ticketed is now a must-have for travel programs. Find one that can be easily configured and managed since the list of countries you’re preventing travel to may change often to coincide with the latest travel restrictions and health guidelines.
  • Traveler monitoring: Location technology can bring together booked trip data, credit card swipes, and risk intelligence to help security teams locate and contact travelers impacted by a disruption quickly. Look for a product that helps enable multiple communication channels so you have several ways of reaching travelers.
  • Automated flight disruption support: With the surge of travel disruptions we’ve experienced in 2020, a tool that monitors flight information for cancellations, delays, and missed connections and automatically contacts impacted passengers for booking assistance makes total sense.
  • Traveler well-being: Travelers may have heightened anxiety and stress as they start to travel again, so it’s important to take extra measures to support their well-being. Data analytics tools that measure KPIs related to traveler wellness can give you insights into what may be adding more strain to their experience.
  • Communication channels: Especially now, travelers need to be armed with the latest travel updates and advisories. A mobile travel app that can send alerts with destination information, provide notifications on trip changes, and help enable them to quickly chat with a travel counselor will be critical in the months ahead. If the traveler isn’t using mobile, consider how you can communicate through email, travel portals, or SMS notifications to stay connected on the road.

To support you and your travelers, American Express Global Business Travel has introduced Travel Vitals™, a dynamic travel briefing platform that allows users to search across different components of a trip for information and advisories. Click here to give it a try.

Getting all your travel program data in once place is hard. Out-of-policy bookings and poor data capture make it difficult to paint a complete picture. But if you find a way to consolidate travel and expense (T&E) information, you stand to reap significant program management benefits. To arrive at this utopia, you must clear the path of program leakage obstacles:

It’s harder to help travelers during a disruption: When full trip details are not captured during the booking process, it makes it difficult for risk managers and security teams racing to locate travelers who need help. If there’s flight disruption, it’s harder for your travel management company (TMC) to support if there’s no trip record in the system.

You likely will pay more on travel: When travelers book outside policy, they are not taking advantage of the preferred rates and fares likely available to them. Even if they think they’re are getting a bargain, they may not be accounting for extra amenities you’ve already negotiated, such as complimentary WiFi or breakfast in hotels, or lounge access at airports. Plus, when policies are not properly communicated, some staff may be unable to resist the temptation to upgrade their experience and overspend.

Holes in reporting can clog up program performance: Having obscured visibility of program performance makes it trickier to compare actual versus budgeted spend and makes fulfilling volume thresholds with suppliers harder to attain and validate. Without proper insight, it is also harder to drive program optimization and traveler satisfaction.

Time to investigate

As we prepare to get the world moving again, companies are focused on managing cost while making sure they have the right technology and processes in place to fulfill their duty of care obligations. As TMCs and corporate travel teams, we must therefore take advantage of this rare opportunity to address out-of-policy bookings and program leakage. The first step is to determine the source of the leak and how extensive it is. This requires a bit of investigative work as you follow the information trail. Data often goes MIA when travelers book trips through consumer websites, directly with suppliers, or with personal credit cards. Auditing expense reports is one way to turn up spend occurring outside the company’s approved channels.

A data analytics solution that consumes and aggregates data from multiple sources, such as travel suppliers, credit card providers and expense management vendors, can also give you insights into noncompliant behavior. With such a tool, you can measure program leakage while identifying the business units and individuals most often breaching policy. The data from this tool can provide clues to help you figure out why travelers are straying. For instance, are they mainly booking hotels outside of the program? Are particular business units or travelers usually repeat policy offenders? Could it be a larger issue, such as an ineffective travel policy or limited travel options? Once you know the root cause, you can fix the problem. 

Aim to capture total spend

Lack of spend visibility can also result from the ways programs and systems are structured. For instance, despite having a significant overlap with travel, meetings and events activities are often handled by separate teams. By consolidating them, you gain greater transparency on true spend, and create additional savings opportunities, possibly furnishing more robust volume numbers to present during supplier negotiations and reducing indirect costs associated with process inefficiencies.

As we’ve now established, tracking travel and expense is not easy. For many companies, the data lives in multiple, fragmented databases, making it difficult to align and analyze. Adding another layer of complexity is the new content, channels, and branded supplier bundles that are becoming more prevalent. To obtain a complete, accurate view of total travel spend, make sure your reporting tools capture every type of expense, including ancillary and out-of-pocket fees, and that each transaction is picked up and ingested correctly.

You also may want to consider a platform that combines booking with expense management to capture T&E data all in one place. Having just one tool creates a more complete picture of your travel program, simplifies processes, creates a unified experience for all teams involved, and generates cost savings.

While more people are flying, the experience may feel completely different to travelers with new safety protocols being implemented at airports and on planes. To get a better understanding of what the air experience is like these days, we spoke to two American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) employees – Patrick Doyle, a vice president and general manager in Canada, and Anne McElroy-Arnaud, global communications director – who both have recently returned from taking their first business trips in months.

Staying on top of the news

To feel more comfortable taking his first domestic flight in more than 100 days, Doyle did a lot of research, reading up the on the latest travel advisories and news.

“Information breeds confidence,” he said. “I’m not someone who takes many risks, but I was assured by having up-to-date information about my trip. Details like hotel-cleaning procedures, outdoor dining protocols, and transportation availability that may not have concerned me in the past now brought peace of mind.”

Because travel and health recommendations can change at any time, passengers should stay on top of the latest developments to make informed decisions and preparations – as McElroy-Arnaud did before taking her transatlantic trip in June.

“I was slightly nervous about getting into the U.S., then back into France due to changing travel restrictions. For weeks prior to the trip, I obsessively monitored government websites for any changes,” she said.

While initially flight information was only available on the airline or airport’s website, now there are information aggregators emerging for travelers that deliver supplier updates and travel advisories in a single search portal.

GBT’s version, Travel Vitals™, launched this month. The briefing platform enables users to search and gather intelligence on every key touch point of their journey. Before booking or taking a trip, travelers can find out things like if a destination has quarantine measures in place, if face masks are required on a flight, and about a supplier’s safety, cleaning, and cancellation protocols.

Guidelines to protect passengers

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN aviation watchdog, recently released comprehensive safety guidelines for airlines, airports, and passengers to follow to protect travelers and minimize infection risks at every stage of air travel.

For example, in order to limit queues and crowds, ICAO advises travelers to come to the airport “ready to fly” by completing the check-in process before arrival and having mobile boarding passes ready on their devices. It also encourages passengers to only bring onboard bags that can be stowed under the seat and for airlines to limit the use of overhead bins to facilitate a smooth boarding process with minimal physical contact.

In accordance with ICAO’s recommendations, you may experience more contactless technology at airports. While facial recognition technology already has been on the rise, in a post-COVID-19 world, you may see more of it to limit contact between staff and passengers.

You also may encounter pre-boarding infrared temperature checks, as Doyle did upon his arrival at Toronto Pearson International Airport. “The comfort of knowing all my fellow travelers passed this routine test outweighed any inconvenience I may have felt,” he said.

ICAO advises that any areas in the airport with potential for human contact and transmission are to be routinely cleaned and disinfected, and you can expect to see hand-sanitizer stations everywhere. TSA now allows passengers to pack up to 12-ounce bottles of disinfectant in their carry-on (up from the 3.4-ounce allowance) and jumbo-sized containers of antibacterial wipes.

The UN agency also recommends that masks are worn in airports and on flights. Airlines in America, a trade organization, recently announced that U.S. airlines potentially could ban travelers from future flights if they refuse to wear face coverings. McElroy-Arnaud says masks were required on her flight but was surprised to see that not everyone was wearing one in the Atlanta airport where she landed.

She also noted that everything is cleaner, especially in the airplane. “I got antiseptic wipes when boarding and used them to wipe down the seat back, armrests and tablet around me – but they were already pretty clean. The bathroom I was seated next to was disinfected very regularly – even if no one had used it since the last cleaning.”

When Doyle boarded his Air Canada flight, he received a personal care kit that included hand sanitizer, gloves, and water.

most modern aircraft have HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, which capture 99.9% of particulate matter from the air, including fungi, bacteria, and viruses. This helps reduce the possibility of most infectious diseases from spreading through the air.

What may increase your risk for exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19, the CDC notes, is that it’s hard to practice social distancing on crowded flights.

That may not have been a problem on Doyle’s flight. According to the frequent business traveler, “There were only 15 people on my outbound Air Canada flight to Ottawa and about 35 on my return to Toronto, both well under the plane’s capacity.”

ICAO suggests airlines permit separated seating arrangements when occupancy allows it and that passengers stay in the assigned seat as much as possible. When available, it advises separate lavatories be used for passengers and crew members.

Because the agency also suggests that food and drinks services be limited or suspended, passengers may wish to bring their own snacks and drinks on board.

Doyle said that “meal and beverage services were eliminated but hardly missed” on his short-haul flight.

McElroy-Arnaud noted that after her international flight, the Air France flight attendant apologized for the fact that the service was not as “rich” as usual.

“Indeed, the drinks and meal came at the same time, rather than separately, and there was only one choice for the meal. But the service was absolutely was fine,” she said. “The flight staff was busy with all the extra cleaning they had to do but attentive, nonetheless. So no apologies necessary. We get it. We’re just happy to fly safely.”