For seasoned corporate travellers, a business trip often means dealing with jet lag, lonely hotel rooms, and a view from someone else’s office window. Adeline Teoh looks at how you can include leisure time in business travel and still come in under budget.
Envy the jet-setting lifestyle of a corporate traveller? Think again. While business travellers might work the same hours abroad as they do at home, their downtime is restricted by their location, away from family and friends. But business travel need not be completely devoted to work—actively or passively—as there are still ways to maintain work–life balance even when you’re miles away from your normal life.
The first step is to keep business travel stress free. This means planning well ahead and booking all travel elements, such as flights and accommodation, as soon as you know what’s required from the trip. For events such as conferences or study tours where the timing is unlikely to change, you can make huge savings on inflexible, discount purchases.
Unfortunately, it is a fact of business that plans do change, so consider paying a little extra for trips with variable timetables, such as meetings with clients. Paying for flexibility upfront may save you more in the long run.
“Our clients change itinerary, on average, two to three times a trip,” says Kim Wethmar, head of account management at travel management company, Travelogic. “Corporate travel changes so rapidly that we are hesitant to pre-book, pay and organise three or four weeks in advance because we realise how quickly things change.”
A travel management company (TMC) is a good tool for businesses that don’t have the resources to make travel arrangements. A TMC manages business travel requirements, from flights and accommodation to visas, foreign exchange and insurance. The main benefit of a TMC is that neither you nor a member of your staff needs to juggle all the bookings as it all goes through one channel.
Al Laird, head of growth at Travelogic, says that although they charge a company for services, they access a number of discounts that clients can’t, often negating the fee. “Our corporate buying power is something we can utilise on behalf of clients that they, on their own spend, wouldn’t be able to get.”
In addition to timesaving and convenience, a TMC can monitor both staff and budget. “We play the duty-of-care role in terms of knowing where your travellers are and knowing what your corporate travel spend is,” says Laird. “We have a 24-hour service so the client can call at any time, and we have the tools to deliver a cost-saving solution to clients because we build a company’s policy behind the scenes.”
According to a survey released by online travel company Wotif, earlier this year, some 85 percent of respondents try to include a leisure component in their business trip. Business travellers can do this in a few simple ways, such as adding personal days either side of the trip. If you’re not on a tight schedule, arriving the day or a few days before a business appointment can help you to orientate yourself in a new location. You might also save on the fare by travelling off-peak, which can go towards the extra cost of accommodation.
Another way to balance business with pleasure is to think beyond the office. The ‘golf course’ meeting may receive some flak, but it can be an effective way to seal a deal and you can’t argue with a method that combines business and recreation, however unorthodox. If an international client is hosting you, you may be lucky to benefit from a healthy social program organised on your behalf.
Once again, a travel schedule with fixed dates will give you the best opportunity to exploit the leisure element as you can then commit to tours and look into prepaid savings. Fortunately, many conference organisers include social and recreational activities in conference programs, offering discounted excursions as part of the parcel.
Corporate travellers with changeable schedules may not be able to plan activities but should nevertheless actively seek ‘me’ time to recuperate from the business day. Whether this means exploring the town or calling home to speak to your kids, non-business activities are an important way to unwind from the day’s business. Even if it’s not quite ‘life’, this way you can aim for something resembling work–life balance.
An even better way to achieve that balance is to bring your family with you. Although this is not always possible, non work-related contact can prevent the trip from becoming a business- only situation. Your company may have a policy that permits partners on trips with the extra fare coming from your pocket. Other policies are more flexible, says Wethmar. “Some companies say that business class is permitted for business travellers but if they are travelling with a spouse they can elect to use the value of that on two economy class tickets.”
Packaging your trip can often be the most cost-effective way to travel and it follows that the more productive the business trip, the less time overall you’ll spend away from home.
“We recommend consolidation wherever possible just because of the high cost,” says Laird. “More and more companies are combining meetings in one trip and do almost a road-show instead of two or three trips because of all the hassles of immigration and the like. It’s exhausting for the traveller, but you get the very best value out of the ticket. It’s several thousand dollars worth of money and it’s also a lot of time spent away from friends and family.”
Unless you have an in-house travel specialist, a multi-stop trip is best organised through a TMC or a travel agent, simply because of the effort needed to co-ordinate several travel legs. Consultants can also advise on bonuses such as free stopovers or free flights on particular airlines, which could save you time and money.
Bundling personal travel with business can also save you money. For example, if you went on a business trip to the UK, you could arrange to take personal leave to tour Europe before flying back to Australia. Although you would pay your own way around Europe, you’ve saved most of a fare by piggybacking off your corporate travel.
Wethmar says that Travelogic often handle cases where an employee adds a personal trip on the end of a business trip. “We had a client who flew to Perth and then went to Melbourne on a personal trip. We just calculated the difference between a Sydney–Perth–Melbourne–Sydney trip and a Sydney–Perth return and they used their credit card to pay the difference between what it would have cost doing a normal business trip and the actual trip.”
It’s too easy to see a business trip as business only, which is why it is a good idea to set boundaries on work habits before you go. The first thing you should do is make sure someone is covering for you back at the office so you don’t need to worry about what you’re missing. This prevents you from compulsively checking your inbox instead of focusing on the true purpose of the trip.
Time differences can be problematic when trying to unwind. Co-ordinate office hours and set aside a period when you will allow your office to call you. If you’ve prepared your staff well, the only calls you should receive will be regarding unforeseen events.
Constant access via technology can also be intrusive. Nowadays, the modern corporate traveller will usually travel with a laptop, mobile phone or PDA, and other business tools. If these tools are making your life difficult, they are not fulfilling their purpose. Know how to prioritise your contact with your office and know when to switch off.
Having said that, technology can be a useful way to keep on track, as Laird explains. “We have seen a high increase in PDA use and we work with our back office who provide the technology for us to send alerts. We can send SM
S messages to clients as well—‘there’s a change in itinerary’—so they can access it straightaway.”
Even if you don’t have a TMC looking after your needs, it pays to be aware of your technology requirements and convey these to the person booking your travel. Wethmar says TMCs are better judges of accommodation than in-house staff for corporate purposes. “They might book a hotel that’s not appropriate for corporate travel; there’s no late night check-in, no early morning breakfast, no broadband, no workspace—the traveller ends up sitting on the end of the bed to email,” she warns. “Our job as consultants is to understand what the business travel requirements are.”
Laird adds that some hotels provide free internet access for corporate guests while others charge a fee and knowing this can be a value-add for clients. Requests may even be highly specific. “Some companies in the financial services sector do not like wi-fi technology, they have to have a broadband connection to the room.”
It’s no secret that the better prepared you are, the smoother the trip will be, but even carefully organised plans sometimes go awry, so there are times when you’ll need to travel in a hurry. If you don’t have a travel consultant, try internet sites such as Webjet.com.au to hunt down appropriate flights, or accommodation site Wotif.com.au for last minute deals. Both these domains have been designed to save travellers time and money by bringing different airlines and hotels, respectively, onto one booking site.
As with most things, business travel is about balance. Corporate travel needn’t be a dull timetable of meetings if you plan well and incorporate a bit of recreation into your stint, balancing the business elements and the travel elements of a trip. And, as the advice shows, you don’t have to spend a lot to bring business and pleasure together for your next trip.
The Paper Trail
Travel expenses are tax deductible, so hang on to all those invoices and receipts. A company or sole trader can claim travel expenses for any activity directly related to the course of business. Employees should be reimbursed directly by the company. Deductions include flights, car hire or other travel to get to your destination, as well as meals and accommodation away from the employee’s usual environment. Fees, such as conference fees, are deductible, as is entertainment related to work activity, for example a dinner for clients. Other forms of entertainment are not covered.
These deductions do have some fringe benefit tax implications, so see your tax accountant or check out the ATO website (www.ato.gov.au) for further details.
A business can’t claim private components of a trip, such as additional personal trips or travel undertaken by an accomplice unrelated to the business, so be sure to keep a record of what’s business and what’s personal.