The Next Generation of Business Travel Is Taking Off — Are You Onboard? By Sarah Murphy 90% of travel leaders plan to transform their T&E programs by integrating payments, expense and travel management. Business travel has rebounded in a major way post-COVID, but it returns with a host of new challenges — especially for global businesses. From accommodating distributed workforces to increasing sustainability efforts, navigating these new challenges amidst increased demand has pushed the business travel industry to a boiling point. According to a new report from MasterCard, 90% of travel leaders surveyed agree that business travel is at a tipping point. 90% plan on transforming their T&E programs, moving away from legacy systems and towards systems that integrate payments with expense and travel management, “simplifying the process for all stakeholders” across the organization. To meet these new demands, companies must re-focus their efforts on making modern business travel easy for both travelers and administrators. With many new players entering the ecosystem, this is the perfect time to reassess your business travel needs and evaluate new systems and services to better serve stakeholders across the organization. In fact, business travel is only expected to continue growing, as 90% of travel decision makers say hybrid and remote workforces will “significantly increase the amount of business travel” at their company in the next 10 years, with 52% anticipating corporate travel budgets to exceed $1B by 2025 (up 31% from 2023). 90% of travel decision makers say hybrid and remote workforces will “significantly increase the amount of business travel.” Here are the key challenges travel leaders need to address to take flight and pilot their programs to the next level: Real-Time Spend Visibility 62% of travel decision makers say that real-time visibility into traveler spending continues to be a top challenge. The Old Way: Traditional corporate cards lack visibility. Despite online portals, most card providers only issue monthly statements, and individual transactions aren’t accessible for several days post-purchase. The result? Business travelers can make many, many out-of-policy or over budget purchases before administrators are notified. That lack of control can turn into budget overruns very quickly. The New Way: Modern spend management tools with integrated corporate cards not only give administrators real-time alerts about out-of-policy or over-budget transactions, they can also notify the traveler in real time. In this case, real-time visibility puts administrators in the drivers’ seat, as well as helping employees stop out-of-policy purchases before they start and providing updates on their remaining travel budget so they can make better decisions or request exceptions when necessary. Travel leaders agree, with 91% saying that real-time notifications will either be commonplace (47%) or a differentiator (44%) in the next five years. 91% of travel leaders say that real-time notifications will either be commonplace (47%) or a differentiator (44%) in the next five years. Aggregating and reporting on ALL travel spend 61% of travel leaders can’t provide visibility across the company’s entire travel spend. The Old Way: Without a complete, accurate view of travel spend by vendor, managers are hard-pressed to negotiate the best corporate rates, project accurately, or identify gaps or services necessary to support a global company. Visibility starts with systems. When travelers book outside the corporate booking system, travel and finance managers become reliant on expense reports, which are often disconnected with spend management and corporate card systems. What’s more, 33% of business travelers are required to use personal credit or debit cards to pay for travel expenses, both before and during trips. 33% of business travelers are required to use personal credit or debit cards to pay for travel expenses, both before and during trips. Legacy corporate booking systems are hard to use, and often lack low-cost options or don’t have all the inventory available directly from travel vendors (like airlines). That leads employees to book travel directly from travel vendors or through consumer aggregators, like Kayak.com. The result? Finance and travel managers are forced to wait for expense reports to be submitted, reviewed and approved to document what was booked and the cost. Even after expense reports are completed, they still frequently don’t have the data necessary to effectively integrate it with the rest of their travel expense data leading to inaccurate reporting. Plus, when employees pay using their personal cards, managers can’t enforce travel policy compliance, which impacts their current budgets and future projections. The New Way: By integrating modern corporate cards with spend management solutions, travel innovators are not only helping their own teams, but also giving finance teams the tools required to bake policy compliance into every card transaction. Built-in policy compliance means transactions are effectively “pre-approved” and automatically keep employees in-bounds, giving finance teams the peace of mind necessary to issue employee corporate cards more broadly. Armed with compliance-friendly corporate cards, employees can stop bearing the burden of travel costs and reimbursement, and finance and travel managers finally get a real-time, full-spectrum view of the company’s travel spend. 89% of travel leaders say it will either be commonplace (49%) or a differentiator (40%) to track and aggregate all travel spend in real time. Disjointed and time-consuming manual processes 59% of companies say automating travel expense reporting is a challenge today. 45% of travel leaders say their travel and expense reporting process is highly manual. The Old Way: Manual, disjointed and often split into multiple systems, when payments aren’t integrated with expense management, it makes more work for everybody (duh). Receipts need to be kept by employees and submitted with expense reports. Then the finance team has to input each transaction into their accounting system and match the receipts before month-end reconciliation. That doesn’t even include the added burden (and cost) of chasing employees for missing receipts and tracking down discrepancies. The New Way: Modern corporate card solutions provide extremely flexible corporate cards — both virtual and physical — as well as best-in-class expense management. By combining payment and expense management solutions, these new providers have changed the game for finance teams. Now they’re doing the same for travel managers — first with corporate cards specifically designed for travel expenses, and more recently with fully integrated booking engines. Modern spend management solutions like Mesh are connecting the dots to deliver the visibility, control, and flexibility travel and finance teams have only dreamed about until now. Plus, they eliminate the need for expense reports — not to mention all the manual work that comes with them. 92% of travel managers say their T&E process needs to shift from a reactive approach to a proactive one, replacing manual tasks with automated ones. Poor travel & expense policy compliance 59% of travel leaders currently struggle to ensure compliance and control company spending. The Old Way: Traditional corporate cards or reimbursement models don’t take a proactive approach to spend controls. Action — like approving or declining a purchase — can only be taken after a purchase is made, even if that purchase was outside of company policy. Compound that with outdated expense report processes and snail-like reimbursements, and you’re looking at a recipe for employee anxiety and dissatisfaction. Add “rejected” expenses and poor usability to that list, and it’s no wonder employees dislike (and often actively avoid using) legacy solutions. For them, it’s a no-win situation. The New Way: Innovative travel leaders are working with finance to adopt virtual corporate cards for both booking and on-trip expenses, and integrate spend management with travel. Integrating corporate cards with expense and travel management offers the full-spectrum view across all corporate card payments — from marketing to travel and everything in between. Modern, integrated systems also ensure that every dollar of travel spending is captured into one centralized system that manages all travel and expense policies and automates compliance, stopping out-of-policy spending before it starts and eliminating expense reports with automated receipt collection and transaction tagging. 90% of travel leaders say that it will be commonplace (48%) or a differentiator (42%) to have virtual credit cards for booking travel. Budget control & cost cutting 57% say it’s hard to make it easy for employees to spend efficiently. The Old Way: The old way to control spending was simply to update your policy and then notify employees of the change. But policy changes are not exactly the most exciting email of an employee’s week. Many of those emails are never even opened, let alone read. Plus, even if they do note policy changes, there’s still no proactive way to control spending. Business travelers can still spend “freely,” leading to budget overruns and headaches for the travel and finance teams. The New Way: Innovative travel managers are collaborating closely with finance teams and actively using travel policies to drive savings. Updating a policy in an integrated payments, travel, and expense management system flows right through to travel cards, checking transactions and costs in real-time. This not only means you can start saving IMMEDIATELY, it also ensures your new budget forecasts are met. 90% of travel leaders agree that the future of T&E is the convergence of payment and expense management, simplifying the process for all parties involved. Forced compromise: Cost + Usability vs. Flexibility 89% of travel decision makers have greater need for more flexible payment and expense management tools than a few years ago. The Old Way: Today, travel and finance managers at most large global companies are forced to make an impossible choice: Choose existing legacy systems that satisfy the broad variety of business and cultural needs of a global organization, or go with newer, “full-stack” solutions that while user friendly and theoretically cost-effective, cannot satisfy the entire organization alone (and almost always require additional systems and vendors to support). Ultimately, travel managers must support the business first. While they do support the technical requirements, legacy systems almost always force them directly into a perfect storm of high cost, low compliance and employee dissatisfaction. The New Way: Have your cake and eat it too! Moving off legacy systems to solutions designed specifically for modern global enterprises means you can get the user experience employees want and satisfy complex business requirements. That’s exactly what travel innovators are doing. They are creating a culture where it’s easy for employees to “do the right thing” and comply with travel policies. They’re making it easy to book travel anywhere in the world. And employees no longer have to pay for travel upfront or submit expense reports. Innovative travel leaders are also making it easier to collaborate with other departments — automating workflows, eliminating endless hours of busywork and human error. Plus, they’re making it easier to hit their budget, aligning with finance to drive savings. 88% agree that optimizing travel processes requires greater cross-functional collaboration than it did three years ago (e.g. HR, legal, finance). Looking Ahead There’s a clear trend of moving to a fully integrated solution for corporate cards, expense and travel management. The control, automation and time savings are enough to make it worth it. But how do you choose which system is right for you? “Full-stack” solutions aren’t always the best option for every company. While it may work for cards and expenses, travel is a different story. Travel at global companies is complex, with an extremely broad spectrum of business needs ranging from cost to regulatory compliance in different geographies and jurisdictions. Look for systems that provide flexibility and don’t require extensive change management when it comes to employee process, behavior, partners or other systems. Getting an integrated payments/expense/travel solution shouldn’t mean you need a new ERP or bank. The best modern solutions will work with your existing systems and processes — not against them. Software shouldn’t tell you how to run your business, it should make it faster, easier, and more controlled. To learn more about how Mesh Travel can help transform your T&E program, schedule a demo. Get the latest blogs from Mesh by subscribing to our newsletter Manage Your Payments With Full Control & Visibility Get Started Sarah Murphy Sarah is a Content Manager for Mesh Payments. Before working in marketing, she completed her Master of Journalism degree at Toronto Metropolitan University (f.k.a. Ryerson University) and worked as an arts journalist in Toronto. She was a content writer for tech companies in the retail and workforce management sectors before joining Mesh in 2022.