Beset by long journeys, broken sleep and an unfamiliar place to spend the night, an estimated 80 per cent of business travellers report high-stress levels. And that was before a global pandemic piled on major new concerns around health, hygiene and safe social interaction. There is no doubt traveller wellbeing is set to race up the corporate agenda in the coming months. So what practical steps can travel and global mobility managers take?
Track traveller wellbeing
Travel anxiety and stress is notoriously difficult to track. “The reality is that we do not know the overall challenge of traveller wellbeing for corporates,” says Matthew Holman, founder of Simpila, an organisation set up in 2016 to help businesses create healthier workplaces. “It’s never really been measured before, and we need to find a pathway to better information and support for travellers.”
Travel teams can be an important catalyst for change here. By adopting just one of the newly available tracking tools, it is now possible to measure mental health and wellbeing at a company level. One option is the Peer Insights dashboard, introduced by American Express Global Business Travel in 2019. The software tracks positive KPIs (such as direct flights and business-class seats) and negative KPIs (such as time spent away from home) to deliver an individual wellbeing score for business travellers. Another is Soma Analytics, a start-up which combines a mobile app designed to allow travellers to track sleep and wellbeing themselves, with a dashboard onto which the wider data is fed and made available to an employer.
Plan for the unexpected
Already, “there are over 100 different types of anxiety points for travellers depending on the type of travel that is undertaken,” adds Holman. And these are only set to increase as a result of COVID-19, which has dramatically heightened the profile around health and safety in any kind of hospitality setting. “Anxiety is a fear of what is going to happen, rather than what has happened, [so] it is clear that any unexpected changes to plans (last-minute requests, cancellations, incorrect bookings etc.) will play a big part in the mental wellbeing of travellers.”
Last-minute changes can be unavoidable, but travel managers can help to ease the impact of a sudden change of plan. Involve business travellers in the planning of their route and accommodation to create a sense of control. Develop clear policies for common eventualities, such as a cancelled flight, and ensure these are shared with and explained to frequent travellers. Build longer-term direct partnerships with providers too. This creates a relationship and a dialogue that ensures any last-minute changes or errors are communicated at the earliest opportunity.
Create a home away from home
Developing ongoing relationships with accommodation providers often ensures competitive rates and excellent service, but this approach can also help to ease travel anxiety. Where a traveller is able to return to the same accommodation, they can feel assured that minimum standards are always met and enjoy a sense of familiarity with the property, its facilities and the local neighbourhood.
Although this is an established practise with hotels, the approach to serviced accommodation can be more haphazard. Address this by ensuring all options are, at a minimum, pre-evaluated. Better still, create a reliable portfolio and include rich data (and high-quality images) for each of the serviced accommodation options, so that travellers can get to know the properties and build trust with suppliers.
Don’t underestimate the arrival
Arrival in an unfamiliar place after a long journey can be both exhausting and stressful, a point of tension that can be even worse in serviced accommodation. Unlike hotels, it is not always commonplace at independently owned properties to be met with a warm smile or information on the local area. Armed with little more than access instructions, an exhausted traveller can easily feel confused, isolated and even unwelcome.
Opt for properties that ensure they make contact with a guest as soon as possible after arrival. A representative or member of staff on hand creates an opportunity to provide reassurance to a traveller, but also to ensure they get the most from their stay by providing a guided tour of the accommodation and the immediate area.