Tourism

OPINION: What the ‘new normal’ looks like for business travel

Over the past four months, as we’ve collectively faced the threat of this global pandemic, ‘we are all connected’ has never rung more true.

Yes, we’ve found new ways to connect as we’ve been cut off from one another during shut down. Yet, pixels will never replace person to person; statistics show that a strong travel culture is a strategic lever for innovation, growth, and overall competitive advantage in large part because of the empathy engendered when we’re face to face (without a screen between us).

So, what will that balance look like when it comes to doing business in a post-pandemic world?

Looking for signs 

We can look for trends from East to West as the world goes back to work to predict what circumstances we might face a few weeks – or months – from now.

For instance, according to STR, 87 per cent of hotels in mainland China are now open, compared to around 32 per cent on 28 March.

Restrictions are easing in Europe too. The EU is now accepting travellers from ‘safe locations’ including travellers from New Zealand, Australia and Canada. In the UK, two-week quarantine requirements have been lifted for those travelling to and from most destinations within Europe.

In the US, the Chamber of Commerce recently unveiled an interactive map to help businesses understand which states will reopen when, with nearly half the states getting the green light.

But, even as restrictions ease, it won’t be business as usual. Groups larger than 10 are still restricted in most regions and the two-metre social distancing mandate remains in place.

In terms of how we gather to do business, in the near future, we’re likely to see a hybrid of digital connection and domestic travel. The further afield the journey, the more complications (and costs) may arise, which is why we may see companies focusing business travel in markets where they have a team on the ground who are able to maintain those in-person connections with domestic clients, partners and suppliers.

Redefining ROI

Companies will need to get granular on what ‘essential travel’ means for them, and it will be different for each company. It’s important to include the new factors at play when considering the full cost – and potential return – of a trip.

For instance, several countries have implemented quarantine periods for travel, including a 14-day quarantine period on arrival and possibly on return.

On top of that, quarantine regulations are likely to be different between countries, too. Neighbouring countries like Australia and New Zealand are already looking at what border travel between them could look like with regards to business travel.

Pre-trip approval is likely to become a huge part of travel policy across organisations, particularly as the end to end cost of a trip will go up, as will the strategic value of a trip to the business.

Now is also a good time to come up with a plan to maximise time on the ground in case of quarantine, making sure travellers are equipped to office out of a hotel room for instance, or building in a leisure policy to include downtime for extended stays.

Evolving travel needs 

Research shows that business travellers are ready to get back on the road. Of 1,000 travel professionals surveyed by the Global Business Travel Association, 60 per cent said they expect domestic travel to resume by September, as well as 23 per cent expecting international travel to resume in this timeframe. But how can business travellers – and travel managers – ensure they’re safe when they do so?

One way of enhancing traveller safety is by making sure they all book through a central travel management company, so we’re likely to see more mandates around booking compliance within organisations. Travel managers can then better track where their travellers are globally, support them with access to 24/7 customer service, and send real-time travel alerts straight to their phones if needed.

Self-service will also become more prominent, as travellers will need to easily modify or cancel bookings themselves to keep up with a rapidly evolving travel environment. Everything from restricted routes to hotel closures and evolving quarantine periods will likely be fluid for the foreseeable future, so being able to self-serve will be a much greater need than it was in the past.

A lot has changed … yet some things remain the same 

There’s no doubt our world has changed in these past four months. And new facets – like redefining trip ROI and maintaining a flexible travel policy – are being added to business travel management.

But one thing hasn’t changed: smart organisations will still approach business travel as a strategic investment and aim to align their travel program within the ‘new normal’ to achieve their business goals.

Teresa Matheson is a senior director of account management for the Asia-Pacific region at Egencia.


Featured image source: iStock/nullplus

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