Research from global hospitality group Accor has revealed that post-pandemic business travel will need to be ‘business critical’ to justify its financial and carbon cost. Jenny Southan reports

Business trips will be fewer in number but more purposeful, according to a panel of European business leaders responsible for corporate travel from across ten industries convened by Accor.

Accor Northern Europe’s annual “Masters of Travel 2022” event was established to create a vision for meetings and business travel in a post-pandemic world. It revealed that sustainability and wellbeing are two of the key watchwords in a world where financial budgets are being replaced by carbon ones.

Business travel will remain at a lower level than pre-pandemic, with Accor’s Sophie Hulgard, senior vice-president of sales for Northern Europe, expecting 20 per cent fewer business trips to happen in 2022 compared to 2019, and another Masters of Travel delegate suggesting there would be 50 per cent fewer trips.

The forecast reduction is attributed to technology replacing the need to travel – the rest is business critical travel.

There is still a “compelling need” for face-to-face meetings, with Accor research revealing that workers expect to make 25 per cent more revenue through face-to-face meetings than virtual ones, achieve three times as much from them, and benefit from a range of wellbeing advantages including much-missed social interaction with colleagues and associates.

Indeed, delegates said that engaging employees and motivating them to get back on the road, when they are now used to working from home, is a priority for businesses in 2022 because they believe that productivity and revenue go up when people connect in person.

Accor’s research backs this up: professionals anticipate they will make an average of 23 per cent more deals a year when they are able to speak to their contacts face-to-face, rather than by video or phone call.

However, business travel priorities have undergone a major shift…

The “Masters of Travel 2022” event found that in the post-pandemic world of business travel, any trip needs to justify its carbon cost. As one delegate put it: “Offsetting is no longer enough, and our hotel partners need to prove they are actively reducing our footprint.”

The ability to run meetings virtually or with hybrid technology is valued by business leaders but travelling for a meeting must be “business critical” to justify the financial and carbon cost.

Summing up the central importance of environmental issues, one delegate suggested that “in 2023 we will have a carbon budget instead of financial budget”.

The Covid-19 pandemic has stimulated the emergence of “mindful travel”, where business travellers aim to make travel count professionally, economically, sustainably and personally.

Ways in which employers are looking to travel with purpose include:

Comparing hotel and transport options using carbon calculators to make travellers and bookers more conscious of the carbon cost of their trips. Tools such as Accor’s Carbon Calculator increase awareness and understanding, demonstrating the impact of different elements of their trip during the trip planning process.

Promoting longer stays, even if this means “bleisure” (combining business and pleasure), which in the past wasn’t always looked upon as kindly.

The “Linger Longer” trend is increasingly a factor for business travel, with one delegate explaining that “meeting four or five clients as opposed to one or two means fewer trips and less carbon”.

A recent Accor poll amongst travellers in Northern Europe suggested that one in ten planned to extend their holiday in 2022 by working abroad and 53 per cent loved the freedom of working from anywhere, flexibility that gives corporates opportunities to simultaneously improve their employer brand and the carbon footprint of their business travel.

Insisting on high sustainability standards and accepting no “green washing” from partners, with one delegate making it very clear that if it is discovered that environmental claims are false “the backlash will be huge”.

Another delegate explained that “hotels without a clear green or target-based sustainable program won’t be considered as suppliers” and delegates agreed that they want the reassurance of validation by third parties in all suppliers’ green initiatives.

Pushing the hospitality industry to take business travellers on the green journey and help them make more sustainable choices by educating them more clearly on the impact of certain choices during booking and the stay itself.

Insisting on strong supplier credentials not just in environmental sustainability but also in areas such as business ethics, responsible tourism, community engagement, diversity and inclusivity.

Providing “lifestyle loyalty”, where business travellers are helped to experience a destination properly while on business trips, for their own mental wellbeing and employee satisfaction. Accor research suggests that 47% of workers miss social interaction with colleagues and associates.

Attendees at the “Masters of Travel” event identified the generational shift of business travellers, with one suggesting that “they may not be bothered by a room upgrade but might like a city tour with free bicycle hire”. Loyalty reward points should be flexible and comprehensive and extend beyond hotel stays to include drinks and meals.

Hulgard said: “20 per cent of business meetings may have gone forever, to be replaced by virtual equivalents or the realisation that they simply weren’t necessary in the first place. Instead we are seeing the emergence of a much more purposeful business travel sector where companies want to maximise the value of each trip to reconnect teams, grow culture, strategise, close deals, and strengthen bonds with employees.

“Business travel enables real connections and has incredible power and value, not just in financial terms but – in the new post-pandemic mindset – increased employee satisfaction and wellbeing and, therefore, loyalty to employers. But the future of business travel must banish inconsequential trips and replace them with business-critical travel that is sustainably planned and delivers for the employee, the employer and the planet.”

Accor has committed to promoting a low-carbon mindset across the company and with all partners, developing and implementing tools and targets in a range of areas including carbon and food waste.

In March 2021 Accor became the first major international hotel group to set long-term science-based targets to reduce its carbon emissions in line with the 1.5°C ambition of the Paris Agreement.

In November 2021, COP26 saw Accor pledge to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, the first international hotel group to do so. Accor signed the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism launched by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) on November 4 2021.

These commitments build on a decade of groundwork in sustainability from the pioneering Planet 21 initiative, which Accor started in 2011.

Accor’s Business of Travel report is available here