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Almost all of us have a story of challenge and stress when it comes to working from home during the pandemic. Managing children, separation from family and anxiety for those with health conditions are just a few examples.

The effects are being seen in many ways now – burnout, ‘the great resignation’, rethinking home and work balances. But it’s not all downside, with some good changes, such as the increase in empathy, a focus on mental health in the workplace, consideration of “the whole human” and the strong call for more purposeful and meaningful work.

Heather McGowan, Future of Work Strategist, says we’ve entered the Human Capital Era, where “investing in human potential offers the greatest return on investment.”

I agree and believe that travel has a strategic role to play when companies determine how they can invest in human potential.

People want more valuable work.  And that impacts everyone in the business travel sector. Buyers need to understand how travel can enable valuable work and suppliers need to think about the roles in their organization and how to make sure they’re fulfilling. In his book “The Heart of Business”, Hubert Joly shares how he connected retail employee work to the broader company purpose of enriching lives through technology and revitalized the company and employee passion for what they do.

As more companies explore how to humanize work, business travel can look at better utilizing technology in smart ways which then can elevate the abilities and responsibilities of the human.

So how can travel buyers and suppliers start playing a role in organizations who want to invest in their human capital?

1. look inward

Ensure that you know the answer to these questions to frame how travel can empower human capital.

  • What is your company purpose?
  • What’s the Employee Value Proposition?
  • What are the ESG goals?

Knowing this for your organization can help you connect the dots to travel. If your organization aims to empower employees, is a 20-page, mandated travel policy aligned with that?

For example, one buyer went through the process of reviewing company purpose and linking it to reasons employees travel. He found that all the reasons fell into 4 areas: Bonding and trust, Deep learning, Innovation, and Discovery. Travel clearly had an impact to employee engagement. In this company, if an employee is traveling for an internal team meeting with the purpose of bonding and trust it shifts the thinking to investing in human capital rather than trying to reduce budgets for internal meetings.

2. Rethink the Skills Needed

The World Economic Forum predicts as many as 50% of our work tasks may be automated by 2025 and, as a result, half of the global workforce will need to be reskilled in that time period. In travel, both buyers and suppliers might assume that we need to improve skills related to technology. But if the technology becomes so good that more processes are efficient and automated, then that frees us up to utilize other skills that can advance our human potential.

Let’s consider a travel agent. Tech stacks have vastly improved and it’s much easier to use the tools to service travelers. Therefore, we can invest in skills such as communication, problem solving and empathy, which helps them as they talk with travelers and provides them more meaningful work.

For a buyer, as program technology improves with the increase in microservices and APIs, hopefully more time is available for strategic program planning and understanding of how to support human capital through travel. This requires critical thinking skills to understand true employee needs, the ability to collaborate with other internal departments and communication to present the business case that an investment in travel for the right reasons is an investment in people.

3. Map the Human Experience Across the Travel Journey

In August 2020, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) mandated human capital disclosures for all companies selling securities in the United States. If humans are the ones creating value, then we need to think about the human experience when it comes to travel. This means asking employees how travel can enable the human investment at all points in the journey. Then we can truly design programs and technology that allows for a better human experience.

For example, are employees given flexibility to travel so they can make a decision that is best for them and their wellbeing? If employees want to bond and build more trust with others, what components of a trip can enable that? Do they need different types of accommodation and workspaces on a trip or the ability to find the right destination to bring people together while considering environmental impact and cost?

With the Era of Human Capital upon us, we can’t revert back to viewing travel as a set of transactions to get someone from Point A to Point B.  Workplace expectations have changed and so too must travel, to elevate its role in the organization to one that enables purposeful work and supports humans who are creating value.  Surely there’s no more purposeful work in our sector than this?


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