Budgeting for Travel in 2021: Where do you start?


As we head into the remaining months of 2020, businesses will be busy either budgeting or reforecasting for 2021 – and possibly feeling more confused than ever. 2020 has had a huge impact on so many areas, and finance has not been immune to it. Businesses of all sizes have had immense pressure to continually reforecast budgets with each major announcement made as a result of COVID-19, and for many SME businesses the pressure can feel more intense due to potentially reduced resources.  

With regional and international border reopenings still a while away, setting a budget for business travel will feel like looking into a crystal ball to try and see the future but the good news is that you are not alone in feeling that way. 

In our recent State of the Market survey respondents advised the following in relation to their forecast travel spend in 2021 compared to pre-COVID-19 travel volumes:

  • 39% were UNSURE of volumes
  • 31% of respondents said their spend will DECREASE by an average of  -40%
  • 24% of respondents said their spend remain the SAME
  • 6% of respondents will see an INCREASE in travel by an average of +17%

So while travel is viewed as the number one cost item that businesses can quickly dial back when the economic climate starts to become less certain, the negative impact is when business travel is a core source of revenue growth and retention. As a business you will need to be careful to temper the duration for reduced or stopped business travel without having a negative impact.

So how do you find the middle ground when it comes to budgeting for travel in 2021?

It’s no doubt a big decision to make when it comes time to press go on travel. The main reason is that there is no precedent to something like this pandemic. But one thing remains the same – getting people together face-to-face is ultimately crucial to achieve success in business, and those businesses that get a jump start on returning to this, will have a huge advantage on their competitors.  

Where to start with your travel budget for 2021:

1. Run a report on your previous year of travel spend

While next year isn’t guaranteed to be a ‘normal year’ when it comes to your employees travelling, it’s still good practice to review where you have been spending money on travel in the past.

For example how much of last year’s spend was for sales? How much was for conference and events, or managing a crisis?  

A reputable Travel Management Company (TMC) will have a reporting functionality in place for this. For example Corporate Traveller gives customers the big picture view of your spends, and helps you make more informed decisions through tracking compliance and analysing travel patterns. With Corporate Traveller, you will also be able to talk to our Travel Managers who can help you customise and organise your reporting dashboard.


2. Get your travel policy sorted

All roads lead back to your travel policy. If you don’t have one yet, you need to make this your priority. If you have an existing policy, get it out, dust it off and review every section of it.  

The idea isn’t to lock employees into a rigid set of rules. Instead, travel policies should help you prepare for the unpredictable and provide consistency for your traveling employees. A clear set of travel policies can provide important behavioral guidelines that prevent confusion and overspending.

Corporate Traveller’s guide to an interim travel policy is a great place to start and provides helpful advice on the key considerations to make when it comes to your travel policy at the moment.

3. Know what travel your organisation is expecting to do in 2021

Are there any conferences, trade shows, trainings, or other major events that you send people to every year? Be sure to ask each of your departments on the likelihood of those events going ahead in 2021. You can budget for these, and if they do get cancelled, you can factor the cancellation in to your reforecasting process which your travel manager can assist with.


4. Control business travel costs

Having a budget is great, but it’s not so great if you blow it out of the water in the first half of the year. Work with your TMC to check if you are getting the best deal possible with airlines, hotel providers and ground transportation. Corporate Traveller is a preferred partner to the biggest airlines, hotel brands and ground transport companies in the world. Corporate Traveller customers have access to the most competitive rates and fares from our travel partners, and exclusive deals you can’t find anywhere else.

5. Build in a contingency

2021 is going to be the great unknown. It’s a smart move to build in a contingency budget in case borders open up quicker than expected. However it’s important to remember a contingency budget should be for unexpected, can’t be avoided trips – it’s not for employees to overspend or for travel program managers to become lax on managing costs.

The final tip – don’t stress!

The most important point is to not get too stressed over planning for 2021. What this year has taught us all is that nothing is certain, and things can change rapidly.

When it comes to budgeting, you need to be proactive, but also reactive. Plan as much as you can in advance, and lean on your TMC for expert advice and guidance for when the travel landscape starts to shift.

To help you make decisions on your next year’s travel spend, check out our 2020 State of the Market Report. You can learn what over 2,000 businesses from around the world are thinking, and most importantly planning, for the year ahead.




For more insights, read our global State of the Market report 2020