Canadians are known to prefer peace, order and good government to the unfettered pursuit of happiness. Canadian business travellers, however, are a different breed altogether, flouting authority, taking work trips only because they have to, and finagling free time as much as possible compared to their much more compliant, team-playing American cousins.
This unexpected picture of the Canadian business traveller was revealed recently at the National Business Travellers Association conference in Toronto by Ipsos Reid vice president David Pierzchala, who had conducted an informal survey of these frequent flyers.
Pierzchala said he was as surprised as anyone by the results.
"What I found interesting was the attitudes," he said in an interview after his presentation. "Canadians don't take a shining to their travel the way their American counterparts do."
Pierzchala added that the sample size for the Canadian side of the poll was small, meaning that the margin of error was larger than he'd like, but he believes the patterns shown are significant.
Forty-five per cent of Americans who travel for work obey their employers' travel policies to the letter; in Canada, that figure is 19 per cent.
A third of Americans are satisfied with their companies' rules regarding travel - rules governing what hotels you can stay in, what expenses are reimbursable and what class you can fly. Only 9 per cent of Canadians were as happy.
Twenty per cent more Canadians added "leisure components" to their business trips.
More than a quarter of American business travellers said they'd actually like to travel more with their jobs; less than a fifth of Canadians did (even though the Americans polled already travelled more than the Canadians).
The survey's underlying finding was that Canadian business travellers are given fewer guidelines by their companies than Americans.
More than half of them said they didn't have any travel policy, compared to a third of American respondents. Pierzchala thinks this goes a long way toward explaining the starkly different attitudes and behaviours.
"We have enough points of data to say the U.S. people were more managed, and their level of satisfaction grew faster in the past 12 months because of the travel policies," he said.
Another of his findings indicated American travellers were kept significantly more in the loop about what the policies were, why they were in place, and exactly how much was being saved as a result of traveller compliance. "Perhaps it's just more a feeling of being treated like an equal in the U.S.," he said.
Taken as a whole, his numbers do seem to indicate that traveller satisfaction rises in tandem with how carefully their employers regulate travel.
If being well-managed and clearly regulated equates with happiness, and fewer than half of Canadian business travellers are guided by a travel policy, it's no surprise we aren't clamouring for more business travel.
But Nikki Germany, the Canadian president of Egencia (Expedia's business travel arm), who was at the presentation, thinks there may be something else at work: Even when Canadian business travellers are given guidelines, they'll flout them - in the name of frugality.
Based on information from internal Egencia surveys, Canadian business travellers are more interested in the best price than in sticking to loyalty programs encouraged by their employers.
"Canadians are generally more fiscally conscious than our American counterparts," she said, "prizing free parking or a discounted hotel rate over loyalty programs and premium bedding."
"Canadians feel like they're already making value choices for their organization," Germany said, speculating on the U.S.-Canadian rift. "I think it's a cultural thing."
As for finagling free time during business travel? That's where lack of management must be a good thing.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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Editor's Note: The illustration was incorrectly credited in a previous version of the story.