SINGAPORE - Despite the uncertain economic outlook, overseas trips are likely to remain a cornerstone of business operations for many of Singapore's top executives, with a continued focus on neighbouring and regional cities.
According to data based on bookings made by companies through American Express Global Business Travel between January and December last year, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta remain the top two destinations for Singapore's business travellers, due to their close proximity and traditional business links with Singapore, as well as being technology and data centre hubs.
Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo were also popular for the private wealth management and banking sector, despite a slight decline in travel spending within financial services. London was ranked the top destination outside of the region for Singapore business travellers.
"The list of top business travel destinations from Singapore has remained broadly consistent for the past few years now," said Mr David Reimer, the Asia-Pacific managing director at American Express Global Business Travel. But the make up of the list may change in the next five years due to the growth of emerging markets like India and Indonesia, he added.
Although the gloomy economic climate means that many companies are tightening budgets, Mr Reimer said that he expects that the international business travel market to continue to grow modestly in the coming year.
"Companies will continue to look abroad for opportunities, and look for more cost-efficient ways to travel. For example, more companies may consider low-cost carriers, which are already used for 26 per cent of all intra-Asia business travel," he said.
He added that sharing economy options, such as Uber and Airbnb, have also become more popular for business travellers to lower costs, with a greater pressure for companies to adopt such options in their travel policies.
But he pointed out that there remains issues with such options, such as safety concerns and the duty of care of companies towards their employees. "Companies also have to manage their policies carefully, as such options do not necessarily lower costs. For instance, breakfast is usually provided when staying in hotels, which may not be the case if a business traveller stays at an Airbnb," he explained.
When looking at reasons for travel, Mr Reimer noted that there has been a strong movement in recent years back towards customer-facing meetings, with a slight reduction in top-level strategic and planning meetings.
"Many companies are now going abroad to meet potential new customers face-to-face in an attempt to get new clients or to get expertise on the ground," he explained.
Most business travellers from Singapore were from larger multinational corporations, particularly from the professional services, banking & finance and technology sectors.
But Mr Reimer noted that there are now also more business travellers from small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
"It is definitely a fast-growing area. Obviously SMEs will have different priorities and considerations when it comes to business travel, such as the type of flights or accommodation they use, but most important for any company is to ensure that they have access to advice and information to ensure that they have the right travel policies."