How to prepare for the return of business travel
It was initially anticipated that the return of business travel to pre-pandemic levels would be prolonged and arduous. While ongoing restrictions and the Delta variant continue to throw up roadblocks, the long-awaited comeback of corporate travel might not take quite as long as first predicted.
The ‘new world’ of business travel requires travel managers and business travellers to navigate an uncharted set of challenges and concerns. For those preparing for the return of business travel, here’s how to plan and deliver a travel programme during uncertain times.
The state of business travel in NZ 2021
New Zealand’s domestic travel market has seen an unexpectedly strong rebound to corporate travel, a recovery that defies most global trends.
Before New Zealand’s Level 4 lockdown in August 2021, Air New Zealand reported domestic business travel had surprisingly almost reached “near normal levels”, surpassing initial estimations of 70%. Compared to other parts of the world, where domestic business travel was sitting at about 15%, things weren’t looking too shabby.
Flight Centre Travel Group’s Head of Engagement Andy Jack says “Part of the enviable initial return to travel has been the relatively low-risk environment New Zealand has been fortunate enough to be in.” The other part can be attributed to Kiwis’ desire to reconnect with colleagues and business associates.
It’s a good sign of what to expect as the country works towards Level 1 again this year.
“I think domestic business travel will bounce back again and strongly,” Andy says. “What that means now is coming back to those measures we need to put in place to make sure that we do it in the right manner.”
Stability of travel management companies
Travel was the first to be impacted by COVID and it arguably has the longest pathway out. This has significantly changed the role of travel management companies.
“We have in this time made the challenging decision to right size the business, but we’ve also heavily invested in technology, so we regrow quicker and stronger. We have an amazing team of experts there to assist our customers and have been delighted to progressively welcome back our people – ready for a recovery,” Andy says.
Different types of business travellers
There’s no denying the global pandemic has caused a tectonic shift in the world of business travel, and subsequently, changed the focus of many corporate travel programmes.
Breaking down business trips and travellers into different segments can help travel managers plan for the return of corporate travel, and the travel needs of each group.
- The never left segment. For these employees, travel is essential for conducting business, and they’ll resume business-related trips as soon as lockdown restrictions ease.
- The never returning segment. On the other hand, these employees were able to maintain high levels of effectiveness working remotely and may travel for business at much lower levels than before. This presents travel managers with an opportunity to significantly reduce travel business expenses.
- The fear of missing out segment. This group of travellers will likely drive the rebound of corporate travel, particularly SMEs who are not subject to the same heightened approval processes as larger enterprises. Faced with competition, this segment will need to travel to cultivate important client relationships. A recent GBTA member survey reported that more than 50% of respondents are developing or plan to develop a timeline of resuming travel and updating travel policies.
- The wait and see segment. Lastly, this segment of corporate travellers will likely be more cautious returning to travel, especially if a virtual event is available to replace in-person interactions.
Business travel planning checklist
1. Planning phase - how to prepare for a trip
Clearly communicate business travel expectations
With new travel arrangement procedures, border restrictions and hygiene requirements, communication is critical for preparing business travellers to travel domestically (and at some point, internationally too).
Arguably, it’s essential at every phase of the journey, but particularly when setting expectations and communicating corporate travel policies, Andy says.
Keep channels of communication open and allow employees to give feedback and raise concerns as and when they arise.
Have a contingency plan – expect the unexpected
This is about making sure you’ve got your bases covered should things take an unexpected turn, such as a new COVID outbreak. Having a contingency plan, and sharing it with business travellers, will give your team peace of mind that their safety is a top priority, and boost traveller confidence.
Review and update your travel policy
Travel policies must be reviewed, with an immediate focus on duty of care and traveller health and safety. More than that, businesses must rethink the way they present their travel policy for maximum impact.
“Travel policies used to be these 15-page documents that no-one ever read. For our customers we have created one page travel policies, you can still have a document that sits behind it for more detail, but a simple infographic that sets the expectation of how your organisation manages business travel can be very effective in driving engagement and ownership,” Andy explains.
Evaluate travel risk management strategies
In this changeable world, and as demand increases, ensuring you have Travel Risk Management plans in place is increasingly important. Simply these seek to reduce risk with travel and disruption, and are good for setting your business up to succeed in a confident and safe return to travel.
Having a trusted partner who can readily support you from traveller tracking and robust traveller support around the clock, is the first crucial step. Understanding tech solutions to help support you and travellers is also key, and for some this extends to having scalable solutions with third-party specialist travel risk management companies.
2. Booking phase
Leverage real-time data
During times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever for travel managers to leverage real-time data to inform their decision-making. With constant cost and availability fluctuations, having access to up-to-the-minute data will help you identify and monitor the first signs of an acceleration in business travel.
“At Corporate Traveller, we’re able to customise our online tool for each customer so it feeds in live inventory from airlines, hotels, car suppliers etc. It’s efficient, it’s in real-time, saving significant time for the person booking the travel.”
3. Pre-trip phase
Ensuring travellers’ safety and comfort
With so much information available and changing every day, ensuring business travellers have access to deeper information they can trust will allow them to travel confidently and safely.
“While some of this stuff seems pretty simplistic now with domestic business travel, it will grow in importance as people start travelling further afield,” Andy says.
This might be knowing which airlines require masks and tests or hotel hygiene practices. For business travellers with health conditions, this type of information will be critical and saves them from having to do lengthy research themselves.
4. During the trip phase
Real-time safety information in the palm of their hands
Aside from being able to manage their travel itinerary, business travellers now more than ever will benefit from mobile safety features that come with corporate travel management.
“From a flight delay or disruption to a local crisis alert, these push notifications become really powerful because they give travellers that awareness they need to plan accordingly. Even something as simple as being able to take a photo of a traveller’s pre-departure COVID test and attaching that to the trip’s itinerary will make things a lot simpler for the traveller,” Andy explains.
5. Post-trip phase
Reporting for more effective business travel planning
Pre-COVID, travel managers would have been concerned with compliance control and cost-efficiency of a travel programme. Fast-forward 18 months, and “more so than ever, traveller safety is at the forefront of all corporate travel management,” Andy says.
The best way to navigate the uncertain waters of returning to business travel during a global pandemic is to use timely information to inform better business travel decisions. While past spend and behaviours have historically been good future indicators, the value of real-time reporting in the “new world” now becomes even more important, so you can continue to get more mileage out of your travel budget and drive policy compliance – while keeping business travellers safe.
Travel safely during uncertain times
It’s been a long two years for the travel industry, but there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel – and it may be a lot closer than anyone anticipated. Just as COVID has changed the way people travel for business, the future of TMCs is shifting as well to meet demand, customer needs and most importantly, the safety of business travellers. That’s the beauty of working with a travel management company – you have the support network to look after your people (and your business), no matter where they are in the world.