By now it’s no secret: Corporate travel is coming back, and it’s driving a large increase in travel spend.

At the same time, of course, hybrid work has quickly become part of the new normal, which has dramatically increased the expenses of remote workers. Meals, software, and even cleaning supplies have all made an appearance in the travel and expense process, and their presence is unmissable. Non-travel receipts now account for nearly 50% of overall spend.

This pivot has been a challenge for finance departments that don’t have an efficient way to handle the unique requirements of both travelers and non-travelers. A report from TripActions and Skift, The State of Corporate Travel and Expense 2022, illuminates the importance of new strategies and tools to facilitate the integration of payments and expense management.

The report includes a survey of 1,100 corporate travel decision makers (CTDMs) and 500 business travelers, who offer their thoughts on expense management as well as the overall state of business travel and expense.

The Right Tool For Managing Spend

The foundation for a unified expense management platform should be the seamless incorporation of contextual travel and spend data. TripActions Liquid™ operationalizes both in a platform that solves two important issues, as the Skift Report highlights:

“Absent travel context, it’s impossible to automate a spend policy that helps save the company money. Lacking spend context, it’s impossible to instantaneously recognize when a traveler is straying out of policy.”

Yet that’s what’s happening with companies that are still separating travel inventory and support (TMC) and booking technology (OBT)—legacy platforms that “blame each other for technology gaps,” says the report.

A unified platform closes those gaps, and can include features like powerful reporting, traveler incentives, and gamification directly in the system.

Evolving Payments, Real-Time Benefits

TripActions Liquid is allowing companies like Zennify, a technology consulting firm, to set its own policies and eliminate human intervention for each individual transaction. And they’re reaping the benefits, as the company’s co-founder tells Skift:

“The ability to trust our people without having to ask about expenses all the time is a major new efficiency. With our recent growth, managing expense reporting and reconciliation was not scalable. TripActions solved that challenge by integrating Liquid with our QuickBooks accounting software and it works amazingly well.”

TripActions has also expedited the expense management process by offering on-demand virtual credit cards for business expenses. Zennify is on board with this concept as well, as the Skift Report notes:

“Say an employee is traveling to a conference. We set the amount for the given airfare and other expenses, send them the card, and off they go. It’s instantly trackable at the employee level.”

Zennify has been ahead of the curve, but other companies are now looking to provide company-issued payment solutions. Compared with the 2020 Skift survey, more CTDMs reported that their employees are using a company card for travel expenses. And company cards are the preference for 71% of business travelers and 69% of CTDMs.

And corporate cards make everything from tracking to reconciliation easier. They also give finance managers more control, as well as real-time insights into spend and better forecasting.

Advantages of a Unified Spend Management Platform

This blend of returning corporate travelers and remote work has made it more important than ever for businesses to unify all company-related expenses into one easy-to-manage system.

As the Skift Report explains: “The advantages of a unified platform are clear—from greater transparency and ease of communication to more streamlined and efficient business travel planning and management. These unified platforms also provide financial leaders with much-needed context, helping to better understand what expenses they may be able to automate versus those that require closer scrutiny.”

Yet most CTDMs in the Skift survey said their program was “unmanaged,” and 22% said they had no formal program at all. That’s not only a problem when it comes to duty of care, but it makes tracking expenses infinitely more challenging. These issues will continue to multiply as the trends that shaped 2021 make an impact in 2022.

In other words, it’s the perfect time to embrace a more seamless solution. Built-in tools for managing employee business trip spending and setting more automated approvals save finance teams a significant amount of time and money. And let’s face it: Companies that can manage costs and maximize efficiency are going to have some serious advantages moving forward.

Download the Skift Report now to read more about the overall state of corporate travel and spend.