What does 2024 hold for SME business travel?

By Kieran Hartwell, below, Managing Director, Corporate, Travel Counsellors

Corporate travel has seen huge growth in recent years. In fact, according to Mastercard, growth in commercial flight bookings exceeded leisure travel for a portion of 2022 and recovered in tandem with leisure travel in 2023.

This corroborates with high levels of SME corporate bookings seen at Travel Counsellors for Business in 2023, which saw a record high of £249m, as clients actively sought service orientated partners to propel their growth.

But what is driving this growth in SME travel? First, more than ever before, SMEs understand the value of face-to-face interactions with clients and key stakeholders, believing them crucial for relationship building and knowledge sharing.

Second, SMEs are more agile and flexible than their larger counterparts in that they don’t have to go through lengthy approval processes and/or compliance measures before travelling, meaning they can embark on a trip more quickly.

In 2024, whilst SME business travel is expected to remain popular, the landscape will see some big shifts. Customers will be more concerned with sustainability, a good work-life balance, and bespoke travel experiences.

  1. More eco-conscious travel

According to Deloitte’s 2023 corporate travel study, just over 40% of European companies say they are working to optimise their corporate travel policy to decrease their environmental impact. This comes as they come under mounting stakeholder pressure to demonstrate their green credentials.

Therefore, for corporates – and in particular SMEs – sustainability is a clear priority, and they rely on travel suppliers to be a strong partner in helping them to make good on their commitments. This includes the expectation that they will invest in reducing their own carbon footprint and meeting their environmental commitments.

  1. The continued rise of ‘bleisure’ travel

‘Bleisure’ travel has been around for a number of years. Combining business and leisure travel, it allows travellers to extend their stay beyond work obligations and explore the destination. But, more recently, the concept has really taken off. According to Euromonitor, bleisure travel is anticipated to increase to $360bn by 2027. It comes as employees increasingly seek to achieve a better work-life balance, wanting to see beyond the airport of a city, embedding themselves more in the culture and experiences that their destination has to offer.

Depending on their offering, travel companies are well placed to offer this blended trip to SMEs. At Travel Counsellors for Business, for example, a unique mix of expertise in business and leisure travel means it can provide an all-in-one solution for SMEs.

  1. Increased need for personalised travel services

SME business travel has never been more complex than it is today. As such, generic travel services, which would at one point have been commonplace, are no longer as popular.

Increasingly, SMEs demand a personalised service, where individual needs are addressed. Not only that, SMEs expect a seamless customer experience, often powered by cutting-edge technologies, to ensure their journey, from booking to travelling, is easy and hassle free. If travel management companies can provide this level of service to their SME clients, they can guarantee long-term loyalty to their business and their travel programme.

The role of a travel partner in accelerating SME growth

Partnering with a travel company that offers personalised services and quality technological solutions is key for SMEs looking to use corporate travel trips to secure new business opportunities and accelerate growth.

Companies like Travel Counsellors for Business can help to power SME growth by offering excellent customer care, as well as working as an extension of their in-house team, and offering cost savings and streamlined processes.

We are hopeful that 2024 will be the year where SMEs capitalise on the great offerings some travel management companies have to offer and take their business to the next level.