UK SME business travel remains resilient

With a quarter of SMEs seeing falling travel budgets over the past year, SMES are feeling the pinch with many under pressure to save money on business trips.

Trainline for Business, the B2B arm of Trainline has today revealed the resilience of the UK SME business travel market in the face of increased pressure for many to cut costs. As part of its newly-launched SME Business Travel Index – a comprehensive overview of the UK’s SME business travel market – Trainline for Business collected data from over 1,000 business travellers at SMEs across the UK.

While more than half of SME workers believe business travel budgets haven’t changed in the last year (52 per cent), there is increasing pressure on many to drive cost efficiency on business trips. Of the 26 per cent who thought business travel budgets have declined, 40 per cent felt increasing pressure to restrict the frequency of business travel whilst 37 per cent were increasingly expected to choose cheaper options of travel. Twenty-one per cent were increasingly being asked to shorten the length of business trips.

Reassuringly, business travellers are adapting to this pressure by choosing cheaper options of travel, rather than restricting travel altogether. Nearly two-thirds of business travellers choose to travel on Off-Peak trains, with 65 per cent citing ‘cost-saving’ as the key driver. This trend is being led from the top, with owners or proprietors of SMEs the most likely group to travel Off-Peak (at 74 per cent) – higher than any other level.

Ananth Ramanathan, head of SME at Trainline, says, ‘Face to face meetings are undoubtedly the best way to build relationships and, for this reason, business travel remains as important as ever. Rail continues to prove a popular mode of transport for business travellers because of the convenience and increased productivity time it offers.

‘Our research shows that SMEs are adapting to budgetary pressure by choosing cheaper options of travel rather than reducing the number of trips they’re having to make. The Trainline for Business SME rail travel dashboard is designed to help small businesses manage their budgets easily so that they can focus on closing the deal rather than fretting about travel costs.’

The frequency of business travel shows no signs of letting up, with the average SME business traveller making four business trips in the UK each month as well as over two trips internationally – averaging 6.4 business trips per month. Furthermore, eight per cent of travellers have travelled internationally four or more times each month over the last year – meaning nearly one in ten SME business travellers potentially travels abroad 48 times a year.

Trains, planes and automobiles

‘Travelling by train’ and ‘driving in their own car’ were ranked as the most popular methods of business travel for SMEs, with both being used by over two-thirds (68 per cent) of business travellers in the last 12 months. Close behind was ‘travelling by plane’ (46 per cent) and ‘driving in a company car’ (39 per cent).

Petrol and diesel uncertainty

The UK government’s recent announcement to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040 looks set to have a huge impact on business travel. Thirty-seven per cent of SME diesel or petrol car drivers, who drive for work said the proposed ban would make them consider using a different form of transport.

London’s future as business hub secure for now

The Index also revealed that the most popular destination for SME business travel was London, with 58 per cent of business travellers having visited the city in the last month. Hot on its heels were Birmingham and Manchester at 36 per cent each, Leeds and Liverpool at 25 per cent and Cardiff and Edinburgh at 23 per cent.

Booking travel

Sixty-three per cent of those that travel for business tend to book their own travel, with 16 per cent looking to their secretary to do it for them. Ten per cent ask their office manager and eight per cent ask a team assistant. The main method for booking business travel is through a desktop computer (76 per cent), with the phone being the second most popular option (18 per cent). However, the Index also reveals the extent that modern technology is influencing booking behaviours with 17 per cent now using an app on their phone.

Trainline SME rail travel dashboard

The Trainline business account for SMEs is a, desktop and mobile solution that allows businesses to manage all rail travel in one place with central payments and reporting tools. It provides business administrators full visibility of all company rail spend, while enabling travel bookers and travellers to easily book and manage their travel with innovative features such as Price Prediction, mobile tickets, auto refunds, easy journey changes, and much more. There is no charge for using the SME rail travel dashboard.

Further reading on business travel

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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