Future of business travel post COVID-19

Guest Contributor

Contributors are not employed, compensated or governed by TD, opinions and statements are from the contributor directly

The global business travel market was able to expand at a CAGR of about 5 percent during 2014 and 2019.  Large-scale development in the travel, hospital and tourism sector, an increase in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups worldwide, and rapid globalization resulted in more number of people travelling for business. 

Then came the year 2020 with rather a lot of false hopes and promises:  the outbreak of one of the most deadliest pandemics in the first half of the 21st century, the COVID-19 or the Novel Coronavirus, first consumed scores of human lives and then killed millions of livelihood. Businesses were brought to a standstill, an excess of 22 million jobs lost and what not? The biggest jolt, however, for any business sector, is the uncertainty surrounding the continuance of business in future. 

The travel sector, among all sectors, took the most punches left, right and centre and 2020 was nothing short of devastation. Lockdown after lockdowns during the first wave of the COVID-19 situation brought about a complete ban of domestic and international travel. E-passes were issued by the respective state governments in India to ensure emergency travel and medical trip intra-and inter-state. 

International travel came to a screeching halt as borders were sealed until further orders of relaxation of restrictions. It was also curtains for the hotel and hospitality sector which faced considerable job losses at multiple levels.  Safety and hygiene became the watchwords, and a lot of hotels came under the scanner for the lack of COVID-19 preparedness and safety measures which again required planned investment. 

Social distancing that became the new ‘normal’ ensured that food industry also go through the crunch situation on its own and left to fend for itself.  When people didn’t venture to come out in the open, dining experience became a thing of the past. Thanks to the lockdown restrictions in almost every part of the world. Online food delivery space proved more than indispensible under these circumstances, though home food delivery came under a cloud of dubiousness in terms of safety and hygiene. 

As per a study, Oliver Wyman’s second Traveller Sentiment Survey, almost 43 percent of 2,500 respondents questioned told that they expected to do less business travel even after when COVID-19 would be finally over.

That response rate was 16 percent points more than the 27 percent in the same survey conducted during the month of May last year—a clear indication that there is more trouble to come in the future dispelling hopes of recovery for the business travel ecosystem that is dependent on that revenue.

The same survey indicated that a majority of respondents felt that video conferencing proved effective in the wake of the pandemic as meeting one-on-one can be risky, given the spread of the pandemic, and that it saved valuable time and resources to drum up a meeting.

When it comes to business travel, if you’re a travel manager you need to reassess the entire scope of business travel. Here are some of the must-do tasks post COVID-19 that should be executed for the seamless furtherance of business travel:  review all future trips and carry out a risk assessment; postpone or cancel all trips that don’t meet the risk assessment;  work in tandem with your travel agency or travel management company or directly with vendors to receive credits or reimbursements;  keep a record of vendor credits for future use, including dates of expiry and transfer restrictions; form new travel guidelines of allowable trips post COVID-19 crisis, and create recommendations on how you can help travelling employees to meet the purpose of their tours remotely.

It is critical to adopt an analytic approach to how business travel is planned during COVID-19. As a travel manager or admin, it is important to put ‘people first’ at the core of business travel and policing. If travel is given permission by governing bodies and administrative authorities, then conduct a quick risk analysis such as factors including the health of the employee, destination, the length of the tour, the probability of community spread during the course of the trip, and the expected population density of the trip destination.  Normally, risk assessments consider likelihood and impact. What is the probability that something will occur? What is the impact of that occurrence? 

It is high time that business travel managers take the digital transformation route and adopt a data-centred approach by putting information at the core of operation, whilst also being people-centric at the same time.  Business-based travel policy should be revisited to change the way travel is conducted at the organizational and enterprise level for the safety and well-being of employees.

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