by By Loren G. Edelstein | February 01, 2009

respondents2There's a buzzword permeating the business travel world this year: compliance. As companies scrutinize spending across all categories, travel managers are paying particular attention to who's playing by the rules — and who's not. What's harder to determine by audits and other means, however, is precisely why some travelers stray.

The third biennial T&E Traveler Behavior Study helps answer that question by exploring the collective psyche of corporate travelers today. This year, T&E Research worked with Zoomerang to conduct a web-based poll of frequent business travelers across the country, all of whom take at least three business trips per year. Of the 308 respondents, most travel considerably more frequently. In fact, 26 percent of those sampled take more than 20 road trips annually.

The good news for companies looking to counteract the blow of tough economic times: There's plenty of room for improvement in the travel realm. For starters, only 55 percent of travelers polled say their firms have a formal, written travel policy, while 38 percent claim no such thing exists and another 7 percent admit they're not quite sure.

Just 57 percent consider themselves very familiar with the corporate travel policy, mirroring the results from our 2006 survey. There's been a slight uptick in those who are somewhat familiar, from 37 percent two years ago to 40 percent this year. Very few are totally in the dark — just 3 percent are not very familiar with the policy, and none admit complete ignorance. Apparently, travel managers have made communication strides since 2004, when 12 percent of respondents were not very familiar and 6 percent were not at all familiar with their companies' travel policies.

bookingWhere to book
Much of the travel process still is unregulated, with fewer than half of business travelers — 42 percent — expected to use a designated travel management company. Of those, 74 percent always do as told, while nearly one in four (24 percent) say they sometimes use the chosen TMC and 2 percent never do.

Why not? Transgressors cite a strong preference for booking travel online, with 60 percent noting they like the control they have over their own choices when they make arrangements via the Internet, and 54 percent saying they book online because they usually find better prices.

More companies seem to be recognizing that today's travelers don't want to pick up the phone. Just 20 percent of respondents say their companies actually prefer that they place a phone call to the travel agency, down from 27 percent in 2004. Meanwhile, 47 percent now are expected to use an online booking tool, vs. just 25 percent four years ago.