Global mobility supply and demand: What is happening in the corporate world?

From a global mobility perspective, 2024 has got off to an interesting start. Corporate travel and assignments are certainly back and in full swing. Fiona Murchie and Marianne Curphey report.


This article is taken from the Summer 2024 issue of

Think Global People magazine

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Even businesses in the regions hit by the harshest lockdown restrictions, such as Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Australia, Peru, Argentina and Chile, are now actively pursuing new markets and deploying business travellers and employees on international assignments.

A changing landscape for corporate housing

Key drivers of growth in global corporate travel demand are coming from shifting political landscapes and legislation, particularly in the US and India, alongside increased demand for hybrid working.In its second Quarterly Market Update report for 2024, serviced apartment and corporate housing provider SilverDoor found that for many business leaders, the return to more office working continues to gain traction. “With change comes a need for agility, so it is important to ensure demand and supply aren’t at a disconnect as much as possible,” says Al Butler, senior client programme manager at SilverDoor.Meanwhile, the 2023 Business Travel Index Outlook Annual Global Report & Forecast from the GBTA Global Business Travel Association reports spending on global business rose 47% in 2022, finishing the year at $1.03 trillion. This trend was driven by pent-up demand from the Covid downturn in 2020 and 2021, as well as inflationary conditions driving up prices.“We continue to see business travel spending recover at a different pace based on industry, with construction, education, and professional, scientific and technical activities showing the most resiliency through the recovery,” the report says.

The wealth trends shaping the international market

One way to understand how the global mobility market is changing is to look at the core centres where wealth is created. This can be an early indicator of specific countries and regions and an effective guide to where organisations are moving people in pursuit of new markets and business. It also shows where organisations may need to move talent to capitalise on new and growing business opportunities.A new report by Henley & Partners has revealed that New York City and the Bay Area in the USA, Tokyo, Singapore and London top the list of wealthiest cities. The US has 11 cities in the top 50. These include first-placed New York and second-placed northern California’s Bay Area, encompassing the city of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.Tokyo, once the world’s wealthiest city, now sits in third place and London is in fifth place. Paris is the wealthiest city in mainland Europe in seventh place.  Sydney in Australia has risen to eighth place. China is booming with five cities in mainland China (Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hangzhou) in the top 50, as well as Hong Kong and Taipei. In the Middle East, Dubai is the wealthiest city in the region.Seven of the world’s top 10 wealthiest cities are in countries that host investment migration programmes to actively encourage foreign direct investment in return for residence or citizenship rights.“You can secure the right to live, work, study, and invest in leading international wealth hubs such as New York, SingaporeSydneyVienna, and Dubai via investment. Being able to relocate yourself, your family, or your business to a more favourable city, or have the option to choose between multiple different cities across the world, is an increasingly important aspect of international wealth and legacy planning for private clients,” says Dominic Volek, group head of private clients at Henley & Partners.Vietnam was among the new locations identified by the Cartus Global Talent Mobility Survey 2024. This is the top destination for 43% of respondents who have moved assignees to new countries in the past two years, followed closely by the US. Australia, Malaysia and Singapore all came in joint third.

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Volatility and geopolitical tensions will be key considerations in 2024

Geopolitical issues are a major influence on where and when global mobility teams may need to act. The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at Davos defined 2024 as a year of rebuilding trust. This against a background of increasing division, heightened hostility and a surge in conflict. It says humanity is grappling with multiple issues simultaneously, including how to reinvigorate economies, respond to the threat of climate change and ensure AI is used as a force for good.Elections will play a major part in the global economy this year. In India, business travel spending is expected to reach up to $38billion, says SilverDoor. The country’s general election – the largest democratic event in history – is currently underway, taking place over 44 days with the results declared on 4 June. Indeed, 969 million people are eligible to vote in a region that is seeing significant economic growth and therefore growth in demand for corporate housing and accommodation rates.“Any resulting governmental changes are expected to reflect the demands of a younger workforce generation, with further shifts in the corporate landscape to follow in support of key destinations including Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai, where investment also continues to grow,” says Al Butler of SilverDoor.The continuing political tensions between Russia and the West, the war in Ukraine, trade difficulties with China and the tensions between China and Taiwan continue to dictate policy. They add a level of uncertainty to trade and investment.  

Supply and demand influenced by new business challenges

For many corporate employers post-pandemic, serviced apartments are becoming a cheaper and more popular option than hotels. Part of this is due to hybrid working, where assignees need more space in their accommodation in which to work, as well as optimising the employee experience. For employers, there is also the need to balance employees’ and their families’ wellbeing with employer duty of care – all while maintaining budget control in the face of rising costs.According to the Emerging Trends in Real Estate: Europe 2024 report by PwC, the interest in investing in serviced apartments has been gradually growing. In a ranking of 26 real estate sectors, serviced apartments climbed from 16th place in 2022 to ninth in 2024.Another key transition point for many companies is the need to accommodate and measure new metrics on diversity and inclusion (DE&I) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) data. While many countries with developing economies do not yet have the means or legislation to measure and enforce new policies, countries with more emerged and developed economies are increasingly under pressure to demonstrate strategy and provide data for customers, stakeholders and regulators.“Across the board the focus on sustainability continues,” says Al Butler of SilverDoor. “For those businesses keen to encourage a return to the office, albeit a hybrid one, demand for accommodation that offers shorter commute times remains high. Not only does it fit the bill in terms of reducing emissions and supporting employee wellbeing and a better work-life balance, but it also means a hybrid model is significantly easier to achieve.”Key sectors are undergoing fundamental shifts to change their business model and capitalise on new markets. These include motor manufacturing, oil, gas and energy, environmental and sustainability companies, and mining. The financial and technology sectors are both growing strongly, but suffering from a shortage of talent and rising salary demands.S&P Global’s report into the Top 10 factors shaping global oil markets and mobility in 2024 found that the global oil and mobility sectors stand at “a critical juncture in 2024”. It warns the industry is grappling with a complex interplay of geopolitical, technological and economic forces that promise to reshape the landscape.“The upcoming US elections […] could have profound implications for international relations, trade policies and environmental commitments, thereby influencing the strategic calculus of oil markets and mobility sectors worldwide,” it says.

Talent continues to place demands on mobility teams

The Cartus Global Talent Mobility Survey 2024, drawn from 138 respondents across diverse industries, reported that mobility volume has increased or stayed the same over the past two years, driven by a lack of local talent, company growth and expansion into different markets.As a result, companies are looking for lower-cost ways to support employee flexibility and personal and career growth. The Cartus report says a key underlying trend is the demand from employees to have greater freedom to work from where they choose.According to the ADP Research Institute, nearly three in ten workers anticipate that within five years the ability to work from anywhere in the world will become the “norm in their industry”. While forward-thinking organisations are trying to accommodate employee expectations, there has also been a trend towards some companies taking a harder “back to the office” strategy.An interesting finding in the Cartus survey was that organisations are increasingly allowing assignees a greater say in how they spend their relocation allowance. For example, entry-level and mid-level employees typically receive lump sums, with 50% of interns receiving them. This trend has also filtered through to more senior staff, with a third of survey respondents indicating that senior employees also receive a lump sum when relocating.

Mobility still a key tool in employee satisfaction and retention

The trend of short-term, cross-border mobility in companies continues. Short-term assignments, often lasting weeks or a few months, provide companies with a flexible solution to address specific projects, knowledge transfers, or market exploration without the long-term commitment of traditional expatriate assignments.KPMG’s Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey 2023 reports this trend aligns with the evolving preferences of a mobile and diverse workforce and as companies continue to prioritise agility and adaptability. It suggests that short-term cross-border mobility is likely to remain a prominent feature of talent management strategies.“We predict legacy mobility types will likely continue to shift with traditional longer-term (‘expat’) international assignments volume decreasing and being replaced by shorter-term assignments and permanent/indefinite transfers becoming the norm,” the report says.It forecasts talent mobility will also likely be coupled with both domestic and global assignments, with flexible hybrid and fully remote work options continuing for certain employer workforces. Yet while in some ways this can save on budget, it does present challenges for employers in terms of employee protection.“While this may result in a nimbler workforce, with programme costs typically lower than traditional expats, there still are costs, corporate and employee compliance risks, and a continuing overall HR duty of care of the employee,” the report warns.Nevertheless, assignments are good for the company and a career boost for employees, says global mobility provider Crown World Mobility, which recently commissioned a survey of over 250 HR decision-makers from the UK and Ireland, the US, Singapore, France, and Germany.It found that businesses relocating employees reported significant improvements in productivity, retention and engagement. The majority (84%) claimed employees are more productive and engaged when working on assignments due to factors such as increased motivation and adopting a fresh work ethic.“For the businesses that have continued their relocation efforts, we’re seeing just how effective these global mobility programmes are acting as a robust employee engagement tool – with significant ROI when it comes to productivity and retention, as well as a unique selling point for businesses looking to attract new recruits,” says Nick Sutton, VP of global sales & marketing at Crown World Mobility.However, there will be a need for mobility models to evolve in order to adapt to changing world markets, the EY 2024 Mobility Reimagined Survey found.“Past mobility models rooted solely in business travel or long-term relocation are not necessarily fit for a more digital, integrated and strategic purpose,” the report says. “Instead, functions need to evolve their approach to workforce mobility to be high-impact, efficient and cost-effective while helping to achieve growth for the business and for people.”“From economic volatility and geopolitical crises to talent shortages and rapidly changing employee demands, companies are having to navigate an unprecedented number of complex challenges,” says Gerard Osei-Bonsu, EY global people advisory services tax leader.

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