Empty terminals and parked jets; less traffic and clearer metropolitan skies.
These images represent the landscape of pandemic-era travel, when “business as usual” February, turned to “work from home” mid-March, and now, mid-July. As we enter the summer months and see better containment of this worldwide virus, government and more severe health guidelines are easing and nonessential businesses are reopening.
These days, companies are rolling out staggered in-office schedules to allow workers to socially distance while alternating at-home office hours. Presumably, next will come the associated travel needed to maximize corporate profitability.
In a study conducted by Oxford Economics USA for the U.S. Travel Association, return on investment (ROI) was found to be $12.50 per dollar spent on business travel. Additionally, within the first year a company makes a reduction in corporate business trips, they can stand to lose up to 17% in profits, which they won’t recoup for the next three years. Condé Nast Traveler reports that some corporate travelers find video meetings and teleconferencing can’t take the place of in-person meetings when it comes to aligning time zones and forging sensitive deals like mergers.
Though a vital aid in the current environment, the longer business is conducted solely via virtual settings, the greater the drain on the overall economy.
The return of business travel
Fortunately, industry leaders agree that business travel will return this year with hopes that it will recover by 70% next year as customer confidence, a vaccine, and other medical treatments hit the market according to Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
In some cases, business travel has begun its upward tick, due to the intrinsically collaborative nature of running a business, from overseeing product standards at factories to ensuring new business development deals come to fruition.
Travel management company, BCD Travel, surveyed travel managers in April for leading companies and found that 80% plan to reinstate some level of business travel by quarter three, while in May the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) found that in the nearer future 54% plan on traveling.
Factors that may impact corporate trips
“Revenge travel” by leisure travelers is the first wave of post-COVID travel to return with consumers trying to salvage some type of modified summer vacation. Hotels, airlines, and venues advertising lower rates are their best to entice customers.
Marriott has reported that of its 90 temporarily closed hotels due to the pandemic and 60 are now back in business. Notably, American Airlines is increasing flights for July based on the 71% surge in average daily customers in May over April.
There are quite a few booking and customer service issues as supply struggles to keep up with unpredictable and constantly changing demand with the current leisure travel increase. With load capacity limits in place for airlines and lodging, the earlier your company exercises forward-thinking for your business meetings and booking, the better position you will be in.
Taking the time to create your travel management strategy or revisiting your organization’s existing policies is imperative.
The travel-adjacent sector’s safety and efficiency
Findings compiled by Business Traveler report that CEOs from all travel sectors expect pre-COVID-19 profitability to be measured in years rather than months. Nevertheless, the increase is bolstered by clear communication with customers concerning new cleanliness standards.
In my own company, we have rescheduled our April business trips for August, with the knowledge that our preferred airline has taken extra precautions, such as frequent sanitation, a mask-wearing requirement, and limiting seating capacity for the coming months.
In the meantime, hotels are thinking of meaningful ways to utilize their untapped resources providing hospital workers meals through their restaurants, along with lodging. This strategy is helping these businesses fine-tune their sanitation processes and tell their customers a story of care and community in this time of crisis. Many are planning incremental country and region-specific marketing efforts as they monitor local health guidelines with restrictions gradually eased.
New travel business lines could emerge specifically for business-related travel. Some elite corporate travelers are already enlisting charters to meet their needs for safe and timely flights, and we could see business class travel flights enter the market.
Moreover, industry experts anticipate new post-coronavirus-related Business Class point perks and Business Elite travel packages including premium health safety car service, hotels, and flights. Specialized business travel insurance, charged at a premium, could be another wave of the future with highly coveted “cancel for any reason” features, perfect for our continually changing circumstances.
Preparations for your business travel during COVID-19
Talk to your staff and managers about how they feel about returning to traveling in some capacity for work.
Your workers’ safety is paramount, and they hear it communicated directly from their leadership. If you don’t have a plan in place for travel management amid uncertain circumstances, now is the time to make an actionable guide for your company and communicate it.
Your travel management plan should cover the key items below as you work to ensure safe travel and the health of your employees:
- Determination of essential versus nonessential travel
- Clear procedures for meetings and minimal contact
- Information on domestic and global government travel (i.e. closed borders, related travel requirements, and their specific quarantine policies)
- Airline safety policies
- Information on approved lodging’s safety standards
Travel returning on both leisure and business fronts depends on the public’s confidence that companies ensure new health related procedures are instated where we fly, dine, and sleep.
To achieve the most success, take an active stance as a leader, offering solutions, acknowledging and meeting health guidelines, and ensuring your staff is in good hands.
Jay Prasad is a strategic advisor at NxTSTOP, a company specializing in traveleisure clothing and accessories, as well as the chief strategy officer for LiveRampTV.