New research commissioned by SAP Concur in May-June 2020 provides important insights that are shaping a new normal for business travel. The data suggests travel will continue to play an irreplaceable role in meeting critical business needs. However, travellers’ health and safety, and a new era of trip preparation and policies, will be front and centre as travel resumes.
Notable highlights of the responding 4,850 business travellers in 23 global markets, which feature 1,750 respondents in Asia Pacific (APAC) include the following.
Health and safety concerns add stress
Nearly half of APAC business travellers (48%, compared to 45% globally) now say they experience the most stress during the trip, rather than before (21%) or after the trip (31%). When the same study was conducted in July – Aug last year, only 31% of APAC travellers cited the trip itself as the most stressful stage of travel.
With the pandemic dominating news headlines, more than 2 in 5 say their health and safety is their top priority while travelling for business (42%, compared to 38% globally). This is more than twice the number of respondents who regard business needs (17%) as their top priority. The concern for personal health and safety is even more pronounced in markets like in China (57%), Malaysia (55%), and Taiwan (53%), where more than half the respondents ranked health and safety as their top priority this year. Given such stress levels, it stands to reason that 91% of APAC business travellers feel concerned about resuming travel. They are especially worried getting sick themselves (55%) or infecting their family (51%). Additionally, the trip itself is likely to be anxiety-inducing: among those with concerns, 54% are concerned about being on a plane, 48% about using public transportation, and 41% about staying in a hotel.
Need to resume in-person meetings
Although 43% of APAC business travellers say they are worried about resuming travel once restrictions are lifted, over a quarter (29%) feel excited as well. This sentiment is particularly strong in India, where half of business travellers (50%) say they are excited about their next trip. Nearly 3 in 5 (58%) APAC business travellers have positive feelings about travelling again.
This eagerness to return to the road is likely because most APAC business travellers (60%, compared to 52% globally) anticipate a reduced number of deals or contracts signed without face-to-face meetings. Fifty percent of APAC business travellers expect declines in new business due to a lack of in-person meetings. Policies and booking tools also play a role in how travellers feel about getting back on the road: more than a third (34%) who use their company’s online booking tool feel excited, compared to just 23% of travellers who don’t use such tools.
Meet emerging traveller expectations
When business travel resumes, almost all (97%) APAC business travellers will consider some measures critical for safely returning to the road. These include mandatory personal health screenings for travelling employees (45%), limiting travel to only the most critical trips (39%), and easier access to personal protective equipment (37%).
Employees will increasingly require guidance from organisations on how to stay safe when they travel. Some 96% of APAC business travellers say company trainings would be beneficial, especially trainings on how to protect their health and safety while travelling (61%, compared to 54% globally) and how to maintain healthy habits while travelling (51%, compared to 44% globally).This shows a higher interest in maintaining healthy habits from last year (38%), likely a result of increased attention on safeguarding health on the road.
Organisations that are not proactively protecting employee well-being on business trips could risk consequences – 51% of APAC business travellers say they would ask to limit travel if their company does not implement the measures they want (compared to 45% globally), 14% would look for a position that does not require travel – including 5% who would consider a position at a different company.
“In this new normal, emerging expectations around health and safety requires the travel industry to adapt, innovate and transform, said Dr Carl Jones, vice president and head of travel for APAC and Greater China at SAP Concur.
When a trip does need to take place, companies should have a way to ensure that employees only use approved and safe airlines and hotels; that they can receive information on changing ground situations that impact their health and safety; and that the company can reach out to them and render assistance 24/7. “We believe that only with such support can employees confidently resume travel, continue to deliver on work commitments and service customers as they did before COVID-19.”