The entire U.S. travel industry has been impacted by the pandemic, but no sector has been hit harder than business travel. As companies have been forced to adapt by hosting virtual meetings and conferences, business travel has dropped to about 50% of pre-pandemic levels, according to Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta.
Companies are Ready to Get Back on the Road
But as more workers are returning to the office, businesses are poised to get back out on the road. The latest poll by GBTA (Global Business Travel Association), published in July, found that nine in 10 of the companies that suspended most domestic business trips plan to resume domestic travel in the near future. Half plan to resume international travel soon, but said global travel restrictions are affecting their decision-making.
In the U.S., confidence in business travel appears to be increasing as vaccination rates go up. In a recent Chubb survey of business travelers, 54% from North America said they were open to flying domestically and 52% of survey respondents were comfortable staying in a hotel. American Airlines reports that 47 of the airline’s 50 largest corporate accounts have said they plan to resume traveling this year.
Face-to-Face Meetings are Essential for Business
One of the reasons business leaders believe that business travel will pick up as conditions allow is that meeting in person is vital to success. While Zoom and Microsoft Teams may be a good substitute in the short term, there is no replacing face-to-face meetings when it comes to collaborating, educating or closing a deal. An Oxford Economics study found that each dollar invested in business travel can result in as much as $12.50 in revenue. The fact that workers are expressing frustration with a virtual work world further supports predictions that business travel will gradually increase in the third and fourth quarters of this year.
A New Normal for Business Travel
As important as business travel is, many companies are reevaluating their criteria for which trips are needed and who must go. Typical factors for determining the extent and frequency of business travel have always included cost, capacity, and perceived value. Now, trips also have to be evaluated with the traveler’s health and safety in mind.
As companies prioritize their staff’s well-being, they will need to update existing travel policies or create new ones to include things like real-time travel updates and risk assessment, and implement strategies for tracking and communicating with employees. Healthcare policies will have to be reviewed and updated. Travel managers will also have to assess and approve providers they feel confident will help keep their employees safe by implementing cleanliness and social distancing protocols.
Focusing on safe transportation and accommodation will be essential to ensuring employees are protected and productive while on the road. When making choices about ground transportation, more companies are choosing car services over ride-hailing services or public transportation. The Chubb survey found that only 30% of U.S. business travelers felt comfortable taking a taxi or ride-share vehicle. By providing an experience that includes masking up while driving, installing partitions, providing hand sanitizers and not touching passenger bags, private limousine companies have boosted passenger confidence throughout the pandemic – and will continue to focus on traveler safety in the future.