Everybody wants to know what the future of corporate travel will look like in a post-pandemic market. Will businesses continue to rely on video conferencing, or will they flock back to the airport for in-person meetings?
Perhaps the only certainty in the landscape today is that business will look different than it has in the past, and indeed, industry shifts are already becoming evident as companies explore technologies to help maximize spend and safeguard employees.
For small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), the demand to drive cost savings and keep workers safe is just as high as any large organization, but the technologies available to them aren’t always up-to-par, says Monaker Chief Operating Officer Tim Sikora.
“These companies want enterprise features, but they’re not willing to pay enterprise prices,” he told PYMNTS in an interview. “The needs of a small business aren’t very different than those of an enterprise business, but they don’t always have the capability of absorbing the cost of an enterprise solution.”
Keeping Spend In Check
There are several key pain points for SMBs when it comes to booking and paying for business travel that have existed long before the pandemic hit.
The first, said Sikora, is in SMBs’ lack of buying power. Smaller firms lack the leverage to negotiate better rates or to secure favorable contracts with individual travel vendors. Also adding pressure to SMBs’ travel spend is the struggle to access sophisticated technology to help manage employee expenses, whether it be in the process of collecting that information from business travelers or integrating that information into back-end systems.
“A lot of tools geared towards small- and medium-sized businesses don’t have the capability of doing expenses management and control,” Sikora said.
These are a couple of the biggest gaps in the SMB travel and expense management space that Monaker identified when speaking with SMBs and developing its newly launched T&E (travel and entertainment) solution, NextTrip Business. The tool is designed to empower smaller firms with the ability to access competitive rates from suppliers, with Monaker also currently working on an integration of the platform with QuickBooks.
The Rise Of Alternative Lodging
One of the most impactful trends occurring in the SMB T&E landscape is the rise in demand for alternative lodging.
Today, more business travelers are choosing to stay in homes rather than traditional hotels, with these accommodations viewed as more broadly safe without the kind of human congregation occurring in lobbies and bars as seen with hotels. According to Sikora, alternative lodging has bounced back far quicker than traditional lodging in the travel landscape, with volumes nearing pre-pandemic levels.
But paying for and managing the expense of alternative lodging can be a challenge for SMBs, he said.
“It’s an area that’s fragmented,” said Sikora. “You have to go to Airbnb or Vrbo or HomeAway or any number of sites, and it’s not fully integrated… Now, the challenge for small and medium businesses is, ‘How do I control my employee spend so they’re not picking the $900/night home, when they could have gotten a hotel room for $200?'”
Connecting SMBs with the option of booking alternative lodging through its own platform is a way to consolidate vendors, elevate buying power and promote transparency in the process to integrate that spending workflow with the rest of a business trip booking and expense process. With so-called bleisure — a combination of business and leisure — trips also on the rise, the option to book alternative lodging and provide SMBs with customized supplier and experience offerings will also grow in importance as business trip volumes return.
As the industry evolves, so must the technology that businesses use to book and pay for that travel. Regardless of what the landscape looks like going forward, SMBs will continue to demand the flexibility, cost savings and optimized user experience opportunities that their larger corporate peers have at their disposal.