As the world of business continues to evolve, inclusivity in business travel is gaining more attention, both as a key factor in attracting and retaining talent, and as a reflection of a company’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
Around the world, there has been a notable trend where employees are seeking a more fulfilling work-life balance as well as a more inclusive workplace. Top talent in South Africa, for instance, are leaving their jobs to work independently, often consulting back to their former employer on their terms, or exploring opportunities abroad.
Bonnie Smith, GM Corporate Traveller, offers a solution. Rather than relying on flashy perks like luxury watches, shopping trips, and new cars, companies should focus on fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace where everyone feels valued. “Show that you’re willing to invest meaningfully in your employees and that you want to create a long-term growth plan for them,” Smith advises.
One of the unique benefits companies can offer to enhance an employee’s learning and growth potential is business travel. Since the pandemic, the nature of corporate travel has significantly changed. Companies are being more intentional with their travel, and often, only upper management is allowed to travel, making it a powerful incentive and clear indication of an employee’s value.
However, Smith warns that the principles of DEI must be incorporated into business travel. A recent poll by Business Travel Show Europe revealed significant gaps in this regard: 66% of programmes don’t make provision for the LGBTQ+ community, over half don’t have special considerations for solo women, and 41% of travel programmes fail to consider people with accessibility needs.
Smith explains it is crucial for companies to actively engage with their travellers to understand their unique travel requirements, and incorporate them into the travel policy. This could mean acknowledging safety concerns for LGBTQ+ travellers in certain destinations, preferences for hotel locations (and establishments) for solo women, or providing mobility assistance at the airport for travellers with accessibility challenges.
“All Corporate Traveller’s customers’ needs are important to us, and we do acknowledge social injustice exists. We encourage our business travellers to be as open with their consultant as early as possible with any concerns regarding their destination and travel programme. For example, if a traveller identifies as LGBTQ+ and needs to travel to a country where the local laws are different to South Africa, we can ensure they’re booked into accommodation where they will be respected and supported with the service and facilities required for a safe and productive stay,” says Smith
By including their specific requirements in the travel policy, companies can create a more inclusive work environment. Organisations have to ensure that their internal culture is conducive for LGBTQ+ talent to flourish. Complacency in this regard is no longer acceptable, says Smith.
Despite the challenges, business travel has come a long way. A notable example is KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ introduction of a gender-neutral booking process, which includes options for non-binary identification and a move towards using gender-neutral language during inflight announcements.
KLM’s new feature is part of a broader strategy aimed at delivering a more personalised and gender-neutral approach to its customers. For instance, KLM has also started using the term “passengers” instead of “ladies and gentlemen” during inflight announcements.
However, there is still much room for improvement, especially given that half of the LGBTQ+ community have reported experiencing discrimination during their travels. Recent research also found that 68% of the LGBTQ+ community have to consider their safety and wellbeing when choosing a travel destination, and 63% believe certain destinations are off-limits due to their LGBTQ+ status.
Smith highlights the unique role that multinational organisations can play in advocating for equal treatment in countries that lack protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. “Organisations can act as a haven for LGBTQ+ people who may not otherwise feel comfortable being themselves. Being able to reach out and connect to LGBTQ+ colleagues across the world can create a sense of belonging and increases the visibility of allies across the business,” she notes.
While travel can indeed be a powerful tool for change and inclusivity, it requires proactive efforts from travel and hospitality businesses to build inclusivity into their practices. This ensures that all travellers, regardless of their identity, can feel welcome and safe during their travels.