Most of us can likely identify with the lyrics from the popular song, “On the Road Again,” by Willie Nelson. After all, in the last two months, we have watched global travel succumb to a near-total shutdown. Airlines reported a record 97 percent drop in passenger volume because of the Covid-19 pandemic. While the world has started to see some light at the end of the quarantine tunnel, no one can say exactly when travel will rebound. However, one thing is certain – travel will come back. It plays a vital role in the global economy, but the ways we travel and do business will change. To help our clients prepare for the inevitable reboot of the travel system, our Business Travel Services team has put together some guidelines for getting your travel program restarted.
Decide When to Restart Your Travel Program
Some essential businesses continued traveling during the stay home orders, but they are few. The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) released survey findings showing that 98 percent of companies canceled international business travel, and 92 percent canceled all or most domestic trips. Many of those are anxious to reboot their travel programs, but several factors are at play before that can happen.
First, the governments involved must give permission for travel to resume. We’ve seen that some countries and even different U.S. states weathered the pandemic better or faster than others. The timeframe of when different locations reopen for business will vary.
Secondly, the organization’s readiness is important. Does your company’s leadership want to move forward conservatively, controlling travel spend and risk? Have the business needs or operating budget changed? Given the impact on the airlines, when will flight capacity to your destinations be reinstated? Each company should asses their current realities and design a plan for ramping back up based on their own situation.
Arguably, the most important factor is traveler confidence and the readiness of your employees to resume business travel. Companies need employee engagement and buy-in for the travel program to be effective. Individuals may have experienced emotional, medical, or economic stress during quarantine and, like businesses, will return to a new normal at different paces.
Ultimately, all three factors must come together to determine when the business should restart its travel program. That time will be unique to each organization.
Determine Who Will Travel and For What Reasons
Will your company return to business as usual with the same employees traveling for the same reasons? Or will budget considerations make you rethink which departments have a greater need or better return on travel? Now is the time to pull the data you need to make those decisions.
Update Your Travel Policy
Prior to your business resuming travel, view this as the perfect time to reevaluate your existing travel policy and benchmark against other similar organizations. Communicate the refreshed policy clearly to travelers.
This Global Pandemic yet again clearly demonstrated the need for companies to be able to quickly identify and provide assistance to their travelers in need, a concept commonly known as Duty of Care. For that reason, many companies are taking steps to tighten up their travel policy by requiring all travel must be booked through the approved channel, typically a Travel Management Company (TMC) like Covington that has the resources and expertise to fully support a managed travel program.
Be sure to share any policy updates with your company’s TMC and make any appropriate changes to your online booking tool (OBT). Update messaging throughout the OBT booking process to educate and encourage travelers to adhere to policy and make good purchase choices.
Look at Duty of Care systems and traveler tracking programs such as Safe To Go. The Covington Account Management team is available to help with traveler education, update Concur messaging, and share best practices from other companies.
Policy decision-makers should draw up a one-page high-level post-virus travel policy overview to communicate to the company. Don’t get into the weeds with details – the situation is still too fluid to be that specific – but make sure travelers know what is different in the new policy and how it will impact them.
Assess Your Supplier Strategy
Before the travel program restarts, reevaluate the suppliers you use. Will your preferred airlines have the capacity, will your preferred hotels be open, and will your ground transportation suppliers be operational? Look at the cleaning and sanitization standards of the suppliers in your program. Determine contingency suppliers if one doesn’t measure up to your needs.
For hotels, examine year over year rate changes for cities and specific properties. The hotel landscape will likely be very different after reopening and may warrant rate renegotiation. Maybe you will want to reconsider dynamic pricing or set targets to encourage travelers to utilize your preferred chain.
The same goes for airlines. We don’t know yet how quickly they can ramp up capacity or how competition will affect key markets. Asses their financial stability and risk of consolidation. As always, your Covington Account Management Team is ready to provide assistance with supplier negotiations and strategy assessment.
Educate Travelers on What Travel May Look Like
As mentioned earlier, traveler confidence is an essential part of restarting a corporate travel program. There will certainly be a new normal in the physical act of travel, so you must let employees know what to expect. Airlines are encouraging or requiring passengers to wear face masks, and the dreaded middle seat will likely see some changes. Lines will take on social distancing protocols, and travelers will undoubtedly avoid crowded spaces and large events.
Technology will become a key tool to keep travelers safe and comfortable. Travelers will use apps for check-in at the airport and hotels, so they don’t have to touch kiosks. The future will bring automated transportation, biometric screening methods, and hyper-efficient boarding systems. Those things are in development now but will hold great post-virus safety appeal.
It will be a new world in many ways, but when you’re ready to restart your travel program and “Get On The Road Again”, the Covington Team is ready, willing, and able to help your company navigate the process.
Let Us Take You There.