How much is your company spending on business travel and meetings and events this year? The current atmosphere of uncertainty can make it challenging to forecast such activities – the answer can change with each breaking news story of the day. Still, here are some insights for gaining greater clarity and management over your travel and meeting spend, courtesy of American Express Global Business Travel’s Global Business Consulting (GBC) and Meetings & Events (M&E) teams.

Define when travel/meetings are advantageous

Each business will need to weigh the value of having employees travel to meet in person versus interacting through an alternative format, such as a videoconference or phone call. This, obviously, can have a significant bearing on the budget.

Many factors come into play when determining if a business trip is preferable, with the objective of the meeting and cost generally the highest on the list of considerations. More and more, a trip’s impact on people and the planet is being taken into account. A traveler’s business unit within the organization, the expected outcome of the meeting, the means of travel as well as the origin/destination are some other points to consider.

Ultimately, the manager will be the one to decide whether a trip/meeting gets the green light, but an up-to-date policy that factors in current circumstances can help guide the manager toward the right decision.

Monitor the total cost of a trip

With prices acknowledged as trending upwards, it’s crucial to nail down the true cost of a business trip. This goes beyond calculating flights from here to there and the four-night hotel stay. The Uber to the airport, the latte before the big meeting, the suit laundered at the hotel, the call home that used roaming – all these expenses can add up to a substantial sum. To accurately measure the total cost of a trip, look at the travel and expense data combined. And to make sure you are capturing every expense, attach a unique identifier to each expenditure. This will enable the finance team to analyze the value of each journey better and make recommendations for managing costs on future trips.

Work to get a good rate

With travel costs rising globally, take any opportunity you can get your hands on to save. Reshopping functionalities, dual-rate loading, partner programs, chain discounts, travel management company program benefits – all these strategies can help to minimize the impact of overall inflation due to economic uncertainty and oil price fluctuations.

It may be challenging to discuss rates with suppliers without a valid baseline. 2019 was the last typical year for travel, but data this far in the past should not be used to determine what’s appropriate for today’s climate. The industry basically must start from scratch to etch a new benchmark.

Perhaps the best that can be done at this point is to have open, transparent conversations with suppliers about your organization’s needs amid the realities today to reach an agreement that suits both parties.

Consider constraints in capacity

Keep a close eye on what’s happening to your suppliers. Due to the pace at which travel is returning, providers across the entire supply chain are challenged with heavy capacity constraints. They are struggling to get their networks up and running and the right resources assigned to the required tasks. This is causing frictions and delays in all phases throughout the customer travel experience. And when travel doesn’t go as planned, that can affect your budget in the form of extra meals, accommodations, and ground transportation – not to mention it can hurt productivity and traveler satisfaction.

At least temporarily, airlines may shut down some routes that impact your company’s top destinations, and some hotel properties may come under new management or close permanently. Such changes can affect your spend and may even require you to strike deals with new suppliers.

Find creative ways to deal with rising food costs

Food costs at hotels have soared dramatically. So if you are planning a meeting or conference this year, speak to the food and beverage director about a menu that won’t break your budget. Steer clear of certain types of meat and seafood that have experienced steeper price hikes and feature at least one vegetarian option – which not only is typically less expensive but a more sustainable choice too.

Also look at ways to reduce food waste since meetings and events can generate so much of it. From an analysis our M&E team conducted a couple of years ago, we found that the most waste occurs from offsite dinners that are not mandatory and hard to get to as well as early-morning breakfasts. Therefore, consider a dinner within walking distance or on the site (which will eliminate transportation costs as well) and a later breakfast. Alternatively, you could provide guests with a gift card for the hotel food market, allowing them to select what they want, when they want.

Focus on broader priorities

As sustainability and employee well-being become more prevalent, cost reduction isn’t the sole objective for organizations with a managed travel program. Increasingly, the holy trinity – cost, carbon, and care – are driving the direction of travel programs and spend.

Subsequently, more attention is being placed on leading travelers to the right decisions – like whether they should travel or not and the choices they should make during the booking process. Such guidance can help organizations smoothen their travel processes or cause “deliberate friction” (i.e., have travelers think through choices more carefully due to an approval workflow) where deemed required.

As circumstances continue to evolve, we are staying on top of the latest trends and data to help clients plan for the future. Our 2023 travel and meetings forecasts, which will be published in the coming months, can be incredibly helpful for budgeting purposes.

In the meantime, our GBC and M&E teams can help make sure your program is getting the most value out of its travel and meeting spend and find the right balance in line with wider company objectives. Contact us today.