5 Ways to Make the Most of Business Travel

Corporate travel managers expect business trips to return to pre-pandemic levels this year. How both companies and employees can maximize the value of each trip.

Pack your bags—chances are that you’ll be traveling for work at some point this year. 

Based on numerous surveys of corporate travel managers, all indications are that business travel will return to—if not exceed—pre-pandemic levels this year. A recent survey by the Global Business Travel Association, for instance, found that 78% of corporate travel managers expect the number of business trips taken by employees to be higher (possibly much higher) in 2023 than in 2022. Moreover, a similar survey by investment bank Morgan Stanley predicts travel budgets for this year will be 98% of what they were in 2019, with nearly one-quarter of firms saying they are already back to pre-pandemic travel levels. 

But while travel budgets may be up, companies are still scrutinizing them carefully in this tough economy. For the first time in two years, corporate travel managers cited cost over the coronavirus as the factor most likely to derail business travel plans and budgets. “Leaders are trying to save money, but they realize competitors are seeing clients, so their people need to travel as well or they will lose out,” says Dan Kaplan, a senior client partner in the CHRO practice at Korn Ferry. So there is pressure to travel—wisely.

Korn Ferry suggests five ways to get the most out of business travel in 2023.

Establish a “rule of hours.”

Traveling for a single meeting is becoming harder to justify in terms of expense and time. Kaplan says a good rule of thumb is to try to arrange one client meeting for every hour of travel time. If a flight takes four hours, try to have four meetings lined up. “Schedule a key meeting, then have a list of critical contacts in that city and build around it,” says Kaplan. 

Make meetings memorable.

Ditch the office or the typical lunch or dinner when meeting in person, says Anu Gupta, a senior client partner in the Life Sciences practice at Korn Ferry. In the aftermath of the pandemic, meeting face-to-face has transformed from standard business procedure into a special occasion, so make it one, he says. “There is a strong desire when meeting face-to-face to not just be locked in a sterile conference room all day,” Gupta says. Recently, he recalls, a client suggested meeting at a local park. Gupta brought along the client’s favorite Jamba Juice drink and they “walked and talked for almost 90 minutes and had a much more productive meeting than would have happened in an office over PowerPoint,” he says. 

Have a purpose.

Just because business travel is back doesn’t mean you have to travel for business. To be sure, most companies still have a 100%-voluntary business travel policy. Others require tying travel to a source of revenue, such as opening or closing a new deal or negotiating a partnership—what Jeff Constable, co-leader of the Global Financial Officers practice at Korn Ferry, calls a “high-value external meeting.” Traveling from New York to Los Angeles just to get in front of a client for an hourlong meeting isn’t going to fly anymore—pun intended. “It’s hard to justify the time and expense without a strong purpose,” says Brian Bloom, vice president of global benefits and mobility operations for Korn Ferry. 

Recharge before returning.

Just as remote work has led to a blended workday, so too has it led to more travel that blends business and leisure purposes (or “bleisure” travel, as it’s known in the trade). According to the Global Business Travel survey, 41% of corporate travel managers have seen an increase in employees asking to add a few vacation or personal days to the end of business trips. From a leadership standpoint, giving employees time to recharge or take care of personal obligations following a business trip can help improve engagement and motivation. This in turn can promote increased productivity and higher retention, both of which have been issues for businesses following the pandemic. 

File expenses fast.

A delay in filing expense reports can cost both you and the company. Overdue expenses create headaches for bosses and expense accountants and look bad for you, too. Speedy filing, on the other hand, not only gets you reimbursed quicker, but also helps managers and finance leaders make budget adjustments in real time—an important consideration for earnings in a down economy. A good practice to get into, say experts, is to upload receipts to the corporate-expense app daily and to set a goal of filing your report within a week of your return.