Business man walking with a suitcase


Managing business travel for SMEs

16 November 2021

During the COVID pandemic corporate travel was one of the areas that was hit hard. Countries around the world closed their borders or limited immigration and even internal travel within countries was significantly limited. Globally business expenses were estimated to have contracted by 52%, within the US it plummeted by 71%. 

As we transition back to a new post pandemic world the hope is corporate travel will return. Although meeting remotely has served business well during the crises, it may not often be as impactful as meeting a person face to face.  


Corporate travel is an essential component for many small and medium industries particularly those with ambitions to scale. It is an effective method to acquire new investors, clients or to find the right manufacturing facility to produce your product. 


This is reflected in the sector recovery as SMEs corporate travel has held out during the pandemic and is bouncing back faster. IHG Hotels and Resorts reported that although SME business travel remains depressed, it was down 15-25 percentage points less than enterprise or corporate travel.

For some SMEs international travel is essential for winning new business, maintaining current business or for maintenance like checking data servers located overseas. A Per Concur survey showed that small businesses pay 20% more for business travel than their enterprise counterparts. This is a concerning trend for any business, especially a smaller business that wants to grow
Knowing your SME should manage this business travel expense is one thing but where do you start if you want to get more control over this cost? Some easy ways to manage business travel include:

Your SMEs travel policy doesn’t have to be documented but it is even better if it is. Having a written travel policy allows you to:

  • Share it with existing colleagues
  • Include it in the welcome pack for new joiners
  • Review if the parameters set become outdated 

Your SME travel policy should include:

  • Approval and booking procedure
  • Allowable costs for transport and accommodation
  • Preferred businesses or vendors
  • Expenses policy
  • Travel insurance details
  • Health and safety and duty of care information
Transform them into SMART, quantifiable metrics. Subjective metrics can be difficult to validate. 
The travel policy is only useful if it is adhered to so it is important to take the time to train existing and new employees so compliance is as high as possible. Explain how diverging from the policy may appear helpful e.g. finding less expensive accommodation however may cause other problems e.g. losing out on a special offer with a preferred supplier.
Using one credit card for all bookings, this keeps all information in one place. This provides detailed and accurate travel management information for finance. You can use this data to negotiate with suppliers you are regularly doing business with. 
Many airlines and hotels have loyalty schemes specifically designed for SMEs that your business should consider joining. Terms and conditions will vary but, in most instances, they are worth considering.
Two-way communication about business travel is essential for success. Once you have enacted the policy, seek feedback from all stakeholders to ensure it is working as expected. Is finance seeing travel costs stabilizing or reducing? Are employees happy with the standard of transport and accommodation offered? Is the process for reimbursement simple? The answers to these questions and more will improve adherence and results over time. 
Business travel costs are more than just transport and accommodation, you must also factor in the resource cost of finding the right deal and managing bookings

Although small businesses may believe corporate travel agents are too expensive, this is not always the case. There are many benefits to engaging a travel expert, particularly for SMEs with complex travel needs as they can:

  • Suggest alternative routes
  • Offer advice on visas
  • Help find unadvertised discounts

If a travel agency would not work for your business, there are some hybrid alternatives that may be effective. Some online offerings have created digital travel management solutions powered by artificial intelligence geared to SMEs.

If your SME is doing a lot of business travel, don’t forget to ensure your employees can access emergency medical care while they are away. We have international health insurance tailored to the unique needs of small and medium businesses.