The Millennials Have No Patience for Your Corporate Travel Policies

Photograph by Richard E. Aaron/Getty Images

Kids today! Won’t use the corporate travel policy, want to choose their own rental car company, no respect for “compliance” or “mandates”—and that is a real problem, says Alicia Tillman, vice president of marketing and business services for American Express Global Business Travel. More than half of hotel reservations for business travel are made outside a company-designated booking channel, according to Concur Technologies, a large supplier of corporate travel software. Can you believe?

The solution is obvious: Make booking corporate travel more like Angry Birds or Foursquare. Turn it into a game. Award badges. Make it fun. Last week, American Express began a trial with Citrix Systems, the maker of desktop virtualization software, to award points and badges to 100 Citrix employees who travel for their jobs. ”We can either post the 50-200-page travel policy on a company’s intranet page, or we can align compliance with something that’s more fun,” Tillman says. Another three dozen companies have expressed interest in trying a similar approach, she says.

American Express tapped Badgeville, a Silicon Valley software firm, to build the interface for the booking process, including avatars for employees. Still, it remains an open question whether points and badges will be enough to keep a youngster flying an airline she considers lousy. Tillman says research suggests such public engagement is reward enough, although cash or other prizes could also be included.

Concur has a different idea: Its new TripLink product links employees’ travel bookings with their employer’s travel-management platform. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that some employees will continue to book as they please, and it helps a company get quicker data on the spending, says Mike Koetting, a Concur executive vice president. “The corporation now has complete and timely visibility over where their travelers are, how much they’re spending, and where they’re spending it,” he says.

The more obvious way to change behavior would be to stop reimbursing employees for self-booked travel. But most large employers are loath to battle with workers who travel frequently. In most cases, they tend to be in revenue-generating jobs, such as sales or business development, and it’s better not to tick them off. Another problem: Those jobs are often filled by youngsters, the very same people who are least likely to book through corporate travel.

So it’ll have to be the carrot, not the stick. American Express says Concur’s approach adds extra costs for companies. For his part, Koetting says games may be fine for motivating some worker behavior but adds: “I think any solution that is solely focused on trying to put the genie back in the bottle is shortsighted and incomplete.”

That genie—young people who think flights are best procured via an app, not a company travel page—isn’t about to change.

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