Departments - March/April 2010

The Insider

Meet Greener

By Emily Tipping

s the economy turned sour, businesses began cutting expenses of all kinds, from motivation and incentive budgets to money for travel and meetings. In fact, according to an online survey conducted by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) and KDS, a European company providing online travel and expense management systems, a majority of respondents (61 percent) saw employers cut their business travel in 2009.

And now that the economy is beginning to show signs of a slow recovery, smart businesses will start investing in these critical programs again.

Why Does Business Travel Matter?

According to research conducted by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association, for every dollar invested in business travel, businesses experience an average $12.50 in increased revenue and $3.80 in new profits. As Adam Sacks, managing director of Oxford Economics, said, "...not all spending cuts are smart cuts." He added, "When companies reduce their travel budgets, there are negative consequences that we can now quantify, in terms of lost revenue and profit growth, and in terms of giving competitors a distinct advantage."

The study showed that curbing business travel can have a strong negative impact. The average business in the United States would lose 17 percent of its profits in the first year after cutting business travel, and it would take more than three years for profits to recover. Consider just this single figure: Around 40 percent of prospective customers are converted to actual customers in-person, which requires a meeting. Not a phone call. Not an e-mail. But a personal meeting.

Knowing the benefits of business travel, from building your customer base and solidifying relationships with existing partners to motivating your own employees, if you've been cutting back to save some dollars in the recession, now might be a good time to consider reinvesting. And if you're going to spend on travel, why not use this opportunity to also make your travel a little greener?

Do It Right

The ACTE survey, conducted in December 2009, showed, not surprisingly, that cost-cutting is still the top business travel priority for organizations. However, corporate social responsibility has shown its staying power in this recession. Despite the cutbacks and budget difficulties, the majority of respondents (57 percent) said that the financial crisis has not caused their companies to care less about CSR initiatives. While supporting environmental sustainability is not the primary concern, nearly half of respondents did say it is a corporate concern.

"It is a great relief to see that Corporate Social Responsibility remains a strong priority for many corporations, and an equally strong concern for travelers, who are making an effort to reduce their impact on the planet," said ACTE President Richard Crum. "It is understandable that the last year has seen corporate leadership focus on the financial health of their companies. However, it is important to recognize that truly sustainable businesses balance the demands of shareholders with respect for the environment and the people and communities they impact every day."

So how can you ensure your travel initiatives are more sustainable? The ACTE/KDS survey asked respondents what might help them travel in a more ecologically conscious way. Most said they'd like more information about the carbon emissions of a travel option before booking, and a majority also said they would like more guidance on their employers' CSR and travel policies.

If you're going to host a meeting and are looking for some advice on greening your efforts, look no further than BlueGreen Meetings, a multi-stakeholder initiative spearheaded by Oceans Blue Foundation, which aims to conserve coastal environments through environmentally responsible tourism.