New Articles

Three Ways the COVID-19 Crisis has Affected Corporate Travel and Entertainment Expense Claims


Three Ways the COVID-19 Crisis has Affected Corporate Travel and Entertainment Expense Claims

In a few short weeks, COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, has permeated every aspect of our lives and completely changed how (and which) businesses operate. Business travel and entertainment have come to a standstill. Many companies have switched almost entirely to working from home to enforce social distancing or comply with mandatory shelter-in-place mandates. As the economic landscape becomes increasingly uncertain, many companies have been forced to take difficult actions to cut spending as they endure a severe downturn of unknown length.

As the crisis progressed, the scale and nature of expense claims have changed drastically. As expected, trip cancellations and work-from-home expenses increased dramatically, while business travel expenses dropped.

AppZen wanted to dig even deeper into the data to find out how employee expenses have changed in comparison to this period last year: Which industries’ expenses have been most and least affected by the current environment? What kinds of expenses are changing the most?

The baseline: Strong year over year growth before COVID-19

To contextualize the changes wrought by the current COVID-19 health crisis, let’s first look at what happened before it began. Between January 2019 and January 2020, expenses in the top 10 largest categories grew by 24%. While COVID-19 was causing significant disruptions in Asia and Europe in early February of this year, overall expenses still rose by 8% compared to last year. By March, that percentage had declined to about 7%.

In March, travel expenses began to drop

Unsurprisingly, travel-related expenses such as airfare, hotels, baggage fees, taxis, and trains dropped 9% between March 2019 and 2020. Looking at weekly data shows just how precipitously travel expenses have dropped. Expenses in early March were higher than in 2019, but as the month progressed, expense claims fell dramatically. By the last week of March, travel expense claims were down by 40% compared to the previous year.

However, not all industries are equally affected. Heavily white-collar, digital businesses that have been deemed “non-essential” have dropped off the most. In finance and insurance, for example, expense claims fell by 47% year over year in the last week of March. In information businesses (mostly software and media), claims fell even more – over 63%.

Businesses like construction (whose “essential” status varies by type and location), and life sciences (definitely essential!) were affected to a much lesser extent to date. In the same timeframe, expense claims for construction companies only decreased by 12% compared to last year. Life sciences companies saw an uptick in expenses during this time – a 3% increase from last year, though the trend line in the previous five weeks, if it continues, points toward a decrease in the weeks ahead.

Office expenses have gone up as many employees have shifted to working from home

Expenses in the office supply category have increased across every industry during this timeframe. The most significant spike was during March, where AppZen saw 80% growth in these expenses across sectors.

As companies closed their offices and began encouraging their employees to work from home, many employees needed to expense office supplies such as laptops, monitors, cables, and keyboards. The last week of March was the most significant spike in these expenses, particularly for the construction, information, and professional services industries.

Variations in expense categories by industry

In March, expenses in categories such as subscriptions, training, and internet were 20-25% higher compared to March of last year. Demand for subscription-based services such as video conferencing software rose in March as employees began to work from home. This would explain the additional charges for the internet, as some companies allow remote employees to be reimbursed for internet usage.

AppZen also saw variation by industry. Both life sciences and construction industries show an uptick in transportation mileage during March. This may be because these industries are considered essential, and car travel adheres more strongly to social distancing requirements in the current environment. Finance and insurance companies saw a significant surge in subscription expenses, over seven times higher than 2019. Construction companies saw the most significant rise in office supplies, five times higher than the previous year.

AI Will Transform Our Borders – From Travel to Trade. Here’s How.

Technology is evolving at a dizzying pace, and artificial intelligence is no exception. Today, artificial intelligence is being deployed in our cars, computers and social media networks.

It would be easy to assume a crisis of public confidence and trust in AI – not least around its use in public services. As with any emerging technology, there are concerns about the implications and impact of different AI applications, such as “black box” problems relating to machine learning management and regulation. However, Accenture’s recent Citizen Survey across six countries found that 50 percent of respondents support the use of AI in the delivery of public services and that support rises noticeably when presented with specific benefits. One of the most promising public applications of AI? For our border agencies.

Although government executives often reference “smart border” capabilities, this vision has not been fully realized.  Today, the focus is largely on merging historical data from border and customs systems and applying analytics to realize process efficiencies.  This approach is valuable but limited. Rather than playing a supporting role in border management technology, AI should take centre-stage.

If deployed fully, AI has the potential to vastly improve travel and trade across our airports, shipping ports and other ports of entry. Border agencies must not be daunted or overwhelmed by the latest AI capabilities – or let fear of the unknown detract from the valuable opportunities this technology affords.

As cross-border trade and travel value chains become increasingly digitized, five value-drivers can help border agencies maximize the benefits of AI:

Responsible AI

People must feel confident that AI decisions are ethical and reliable. Fortunately, agencies are already working to establish public trust in AI. According to Accenture’s Technology Vision 2018 report, 78 percent of public service executives say they’re seeking to gain citizen confidence by being transparent in their AI decisions. Since these AI systems can make choices that affect trade, border agencies must think carefully about how they’re adopted, understand the implications for public sector organizations and their workforces. At the same time, border agencies must teach AI systems to act with both accountability and transparency.  Given the right strategy and controls, combined with a willingness to learn from other sectors, ‘responsible AI’ offers great benefits for border agencies.

Intelligent automation

With artificial intelligence gaining momentum across enterprises and industries, we’re entering the era of intelligent automation. Intelligent automation is much more than the simple transfer of tasks from man to machine; its real power is to transform traditional ways of operating by revealing what can be accomplished by integrating systems, data and people. Most process automation currently deployed by border agencies handles mundane and repetitive tasks rather than those requiring cognitive intelligence. However, that’s rapidly changing. Future AI use cases might include a chatbot that answers complex questions to an entirely autonomous port where humans’ only role is monitoring and security.

Enhanced judgements

It will be many years before AI can reliably make decisions on complex issues, such as determining what goods or visitors pass through a border and into a country. But AI does have a valuable role to play in augmenting human judgement and supporting choices about the “next best action” on case work. Take an area where humans’ visual perceptions are used as the basis for decisions – as in the classification of goods for customs declarations. Currently, these decisions may differ from port to port and from person to person, often resulting in delays. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can crunch vast amounts of data 24×7, removing subjectivity, inconsistencies and delays – especially when deployed uniformly across border agencies, shippers and traders.

Enhanced interactions

One of the biggest benefits of digitization is the ability to eliminate paper forms and provide more personalized online and in-person service. With AI, personalization can be elevated to a whole new level – and in an environment like customs, the impact on user experiences can be transformational. A border agency’s wealth of existing and historical data about each transaction or entity means routine information-gathering can be almost completely automated, enabling the agency to focus on providing a positive experience and facilitating the safe and frictionless passage of people and goods. In the airport of the future – humans will collaborate effortlessly with machines, combining instantaneous facial recognition with flight data to validate each passenger’s identity and travel itinerary, drawing on his or her full travel history and other data to assess risk levels. Then, if necessary, the AI system will prompt its human counterpart with questions for additional human-human screening.

Intelligent product categorization

Customs classifications processes are notoriously complex and bureaucratic, and the descriptions often are esoteric – yet any individual or organization that gets the classification wrong can face severe penalties. Artificial intelligence has enormous potential for simplifying these complex nomenclatures, making it easier to find the right classification while improving understanding, reducing costly errors and fostering the effective flow of trade.

It’s the nature of emerging technology to have ups and downs. Whatever the latest headlines may say, the genuine promise and business case for Artificial Intelligence at the border remain as compelling as ever.  It’s vital that border agencies stay focused on the value that AI can deliver – and don’t let short-term concerns distract them. So far, most border and customs agencies have only scratched the surface of AI’s potential. It’s now time to dig deeper into AI capabilities – and combine humans and machines in ways that don’t just improve efficiency at the border but reinvent border processes altogether.





Hyatt Opens New Hotel in Suzhou, China

Suzhou, China – Hyatt Regency Suzhou has announced the opening of its new Hyatt Regency Suzhou Hotel.

Located in the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) with a subway station at its doorstep, the new hotel is part of Jinghope Plaza, a new complex project that includes a luxury shopping mall, entertainment venues and two ‘Grade-A’ office buildings.

Hyatt Regency Suzhou is a key connecting point between Suzhou and Shanghai, offering easy accessibility to visiting guests.

The hotel is 25 minutes by train from Shanghai, one hour by car to Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, and 10 minutes by car to Suzhou SIP Railway Station, the transportation hub of Yangtze River Delta region.

The hotel offers 355 spacious guestrooms and suites plus a Regency Club. In addition, there are five restaurants and lounges, more than 15,000 square feet of meeting, event and wedding venues, spa and wellness facilities, and a 25-meter indoor swimming pool on the third floor with floor-to-ceiling city views.

The 24-hour fitness center offers the latest cardio and strength equipment, which enables guests to share their workout stats via social media.

The hotel was designed by LTW Designworks and features a 29-story triangular atrium topped with a glass roof. The interior design “is inspired by Suzhou’s classic gardens offset by large-scale contemporary artworks and abstract patterns that reference the modern face of Suzhou,” the company said.


Norwegian Air International Files Comments with USDOT

Washington, DC – Norwegian Air International (NAI) has filed comments with the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) confirming its support for the European Commission’s views that parties to the US-EU Open Skies Agreement cannot unilaterally deny NAI’s application to serve the US on the basis of Article 17 of the agreement.

The Commission’s views were expressed in a high level meeting between the US government and Commission officials, where the Commission was asked its views on “whether a party to the Open Skies Agreement could unilaterally deny an application of the other party based on the so-called ‘social dimension’ provision of the agreement.”

That stance is a key argument by NAI’s opponents who have been urging the USDOT to deny NAI’s application.

“We commend Secretary Foxx in seeking the Commission’s comments on this pertinent issue – and the Commission for its sound judgment that is consistent with established legal norms of treaty interpretation, the Joint Declaration of the Chairmen of the US and EU delegations who led the negotiation of the historic Open Skies Agreement, and international law,” said Asgeir Nyseth, CEO of Norwegian Air International.

“We look forward to DOT promptly granting NAI’s application to bring air service to the US, so consumers can finally begin realizing the benefits of competition – including lower fares,” he said.

NAI’s application for authority to fly to the US has reportedly been pending with DOT for almost six months.


Global Market Advisors Open New Office in Thailand

Las Vegas, NV – Global Market Advisors LLC, the international casino gaming, hospitality and travel industry consultancy, has opened an Asia regional office in the central business district of Bangkok, Thailand.

The new office will support the firm’s clients located in the region in an advisory capacity in areas such as financial feasibility,  marketing strategies, and government relations for companies in the casino gaming, hospitality, airlines, and financial industries.

Global Market Advisors, LLC and its casino gaming industry consulting division, Gaming Market Advisors, has a significant history in advising clients in South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, and eastern Russia.

The firm also has a strong presence in the US servicing a myriad of clients in the casino gaming and hospitality industries from offices in Denver, Colorado, and Las Vegas, Nevada.


Hard Rock Developing New Hotel Property in Mexico

Orlando, FL – Hard Rock International has begun construction on a new hotel in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, that will feature 600-rooms, six restaurants, multiple pool sites, several spas, and 54,000 square feet of meeting and conference space.

The new hotel is the company’s fourth in Mexico and is slated for completion in 2016.

With a total of 186 venues in 57 countries, including 142 cafes, 20 hotels and 9 casinos, Hard Rock International also owns, operates and franchises Cafes in several cities including London, New York, San Francisco, Sydney, and Dubai.

In addition HRI also owns, licenses and/or manages hotel/casino properties worldwide such as its two most successful Hotel and Casino properties in Tampa and Hollywood, Fl., both owned and operated by HRI parent, The Seminole Tribe of Florida, as well as other locations including Bali, Biloxi, Chicago, Cancun, Ibiza, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, San Diego and Singapore.

Upcoming new Hard Rock Cafe locations include Seoul, Vienna, and Marseille, while new hotel projects include Daytona Beach, Abu Dhabi, and Shenzhen and Haikou in China.



Air China’s New DC-Beijing Service Unveiled

Washington, DC – Dulles International Airport is celebrating the launch of Air China’s new service linking Washington, DC and Beijing.

State-owned Air China plans service four times a week between the two cities with new-generation Boeing 777-300ER featuring three-class cabins: first class (Forbidden Pavilion), business (Capital Pavilion) and economy class.

First class cabins feature luxury suites; business class cabins boast 180-degree flatbed seats, while all cabins have individual TV screens with audio-video-on-demand (AVOD).

Air China’s new nonstop service (CA 818) departs from Washington Dulles International to Beijing at 5:00 pm local time on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

It arrives in Beijing the next day at 6:40 pm local time. CA 817 departs Beijing on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 12:45 pm local time and arrives at IAD on the same day at 2:35 pm local time. Beijing is 13 hours ahead of Washington, DC.

Washington Dulles International is Air China’s seventh gateway in North America. Other hubs are Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Houston, Honolulu, and Vancouver.

Air China is currently the world’s largest airline by market capitalization, according to the International Air Transport Association.

The carrier operates a fleet of 461 Boeing and Airbus aircraft operating on 284 global routes thoughout Asia, Oceania, the Middle East, Europe, South and North America from its main hub at Beijing’s Capital International Airport.



Starwood Opens New Hotel in Fiji

Stamford, CT – Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide has expanded its resorts portfolio with the opening of Sheraton Resort & Spa, Tokoriki Island, Fiji.

Owned by local Fijian proprietary company, Ritam Investments Ltd, part of the P Meghji Group, the previously independent resort underwent an extensive $18.5 million renovation and conversion project prior to Sheraton’s acquisition.

The debut of Sheraton Resort & Spa, Tokoriki Island, Fiji, marks the Sheraton brand’s eighth property in the Pacific region and Starwood’s fourth operating property in Fiji, joining the Sheraton Fiji Resort, the Sheraton Denarau Villas and The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa.

The Sheraton Resort & Spa, Tokoriki Island, Fiji, is situated on a 35-acre beachfront property in the south-western corner of Tokoriki Island, the northernmost island within Fiji’s Mamanuca group.

Guests can reach the island via a 12-minute helicopter flight from Nadi or a one-hour boat ride. Fiji is the most easily accessible Pacific island nation and serviced by a number of carriers including Fiji Airways, with direct flights to Nadi out of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane Auckland, Los Angeles, Seoul and Hong Kong.

As one of Fiji’s largest high-caliber island resorts, Sheraton Resort & Spa, Tokoriki Island, Fiji, will feature a total of 101 guestrooms and suites, including 30 Tokoriki Retreats with private plunge pools.

Additionally, the resort will offer 14 Beachfront Rooms, 14 Ocean Breeze Rooms, 18 Ocean View Rooms, seven Family Suites and 18 Island Breeze rooms, as well as complimentary wireless broadband, an outdoor swimming pool, fitness center, tennis courts, kids club, two boutiques, a theater accommodating up to 50 guests, and a contemporary spa with four serene treatment rooms and a wide range of relaxation packages.


Delta Offers New Seattle-Seoul Service

Atlanta, GA – Delta Air Lines is now offering a new non-stop service from Seattle to Seoul, Korea.

The Seattle-Seoul service will operate using a 210-seat Boeing 767-300ER aircraft with 35 full-flat bed seats in BusinessElite, 32 seats in Economy Comfort and 143 Economy class seats.

The new service marks Delta’s fourth nonstop international route added from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) in a year, including London-Heathrow, Shanghai-Pudong and Tokyo-Haneda. On June 16, the air carrier will offer a new flight with nonstop service from Seattle to Hong Kong.

In addition to the recently added international service, Delta also currently operates nonstop flights from Seattle to Amsterdam, Beijing, Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Tokyo-Narita.

By this summer, Delta will offer more international service from Seattle than all other carriers combined with more than 2,500 daily long-haul international seats as part of the market’s 86 peak-day departures to 26 destinations.

In February, Delta launched a double miles promotion for Seattle-based SkyMiles members.

Customers who book and fly Delta or Delta Connection-marketed and -operated flights from Seattle by December 31, 2014, will be awarded double miles and double Medallion Qualification Miles on the nonstop segment departing from or arriving into Seattle. Registration is required.

Delta currently operates 76 peak-day departures to 25 destinations from Seattle, and every flight offers BusinessElite/First Class and Economy Comfort seating as well as Wi-Fi service on all domestic aircraft.

The airline has invested $15 million in its facilities at Sea-Tac, including its Delta Sky Club and recently completed lobby renovations, Sky Priority services, new gate area power recharging stations, expanded ticket counters and enhancements to the international arrivals area.