The COVID-19 pandemic hit travel hard. All but essential travel was suspended for most companies during the last two to three months. The outlook is optimistic that travel will resume but new travel priorities have emerged for business travelers, as well as their employers.
The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) found in a recent poll of over 1,700 companies that while 40 percent of companies are expecting to resume travel shortly, 72 percent plan or are considering a resumption of travel within the U.S. in the near future. The speed of recovery will be affected by declining infection rates, lifting of travel restrictions, anti-viral treatments, and public health guidelines. But the confidence levels of both individual travelers and their organizations are intrinsically important, too. While travelers and companies are both concerned with travel health and safety, the two have slightly different travel priorities.
Travel Priorities for Business Travelers
BCD Travel surveyed 1,260 business travelers worldwide in early May 2020. The sampling represented a broad cross-section of ages, and industries from North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. Travelers were asked to rate the importance of various measures designed to ensure safe travel.
Business travelers said that it’s most important for airlines to enhance airport and cabin disinfection and implement new boarding procedures to accommodate social distancing. Close behind were having an empty seat beside you on an airplane and mandatory wearing of masks by travelers and employees. Of less concern for individual travelers were temperature checks and rapid testing for passengers, followed by contactless check-in and security, and enhanced onboard food and beverage packaging.
For hotel stays, enhanced cleaning also ranks as the most important priority for business travelers. Next was online check-in and digital room keys. Mandatory masks for guests and employees also ranked high. Measures such as temperature checks, social distancing, boxed meals, and robot room service delivery showed up but had a lower impact on travelers.
The top three traveler worries about future travel include the potential for quarantine measures after travel, social distancing while traveling, and cleanliness of the environment. Confusion about rapidly changing regulations is also a concern. As a side note, email was by far the preferred method of communication for new policies or actions related to COVID-19. Other communications included corporate intranets, travel app messaging, webinars, and social channels.
Corporate Concerns About Travel
BCD Travel also surveyed 125 travel managers in mid-April 2020 to get a picture of what is important to businesses as travel resumes. 8 in 10 companies experienced a negative impact on their bottom line from the pandemic, so recovery is paramount. While 81 percent of the respondents expect some degree of travel to resume in the second or third Quarter of 2020, only 62 percent feel that business travel will return to pre-virus levels by the end of the year.
The top corporate priority for travel is the duty of care for their employees. This, of course, is a legal requirement but organizations also show a genuine desire to take care of their employees, as evidenced by the next priority being traveler satisfaction and wellbeing. Next, policy compliance and data analytics carried equal weight, followed by cost control and expense management. Somewhat revealingly, environmentally sustainable travel came in as the lowest priority.
To enhance duty of care and traveler wellbeing, 67 percent of companies polled provide specific travel advice to employees for traveling during COVID-19 and implemented additional pre-trip approvals. 50 percent use traveler tracking technology and 20 percent use in-app messaging to quickly update travelers. A full two-thirds of travel teams felt adequately prepared for the disruption to travel.
A New Normal for Business Travel
In summary, the cleanliness expectations of travel suppliers have never been higher. The travel experience will have fewer touchpoints and more social distancing. Organizations will take extra steps to ensure their travelers’ safety. Only time will tell how rapidly a full travel recovery will be made, but a new normal is already emerging – one that is quite positive for business travelers.