Is it time to fly? Business travellers believe the COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions have negatively impacted their effectiveness to do their jobs

12 May, 2021

Business travellers around the world believe the COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions have negatively impacted their effectiveness to complete their jobs as well as the ability of their employers to develop business, serve clients and maintain business relationships, according to a survey from global property and casualty insurance company Chubb.

The ‘Time to fly: the impact of COVID-19 on the present and future of business travel’ survey found that job effectiveness has suffered from the pandemic and travel restrictions suggesting a rapid return of business travel my be on the cards to support economic development. At the same time, the survey indicates that business travellers have personally missed travelling for work and leisure, and are eager to get back on the road.

The findings of the research, based on a Feb/Mar-2021 polling by Dynata of 2,100 business travellers, aged 20 and above across North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America who are currently employed and regularly stay overnight on business trips in a typical year, highlight the importance of face-to-face business and provides evidence that technology substitution may be negligible.

Based on the responses, four in five (80%) business travellers globally believe they are missing something important when they cannot see body language or other visual clues that you can only get in an in-person meeting. In fact, nearly three out of four business travellers (74%) say they are less effective in their job due to the pandemic and severely limited travel opportunities. Areas that have been negatively impacted include client service and the ability to maintain relationships with clients and business partners.

With the proper precautions, respondents said they were twice as likely to feel more comfortable travelling for business than for leisure. One reason cited, according to the report, being that “business is important to their livelihood”.

Other key findings from the survey included that three quarters (75%) of the surveyed business travellers said they would be willing to pay more to keep the middle seat open when they fly, while more than two-thirds (69%) warned that they expected company travel budgets will be trimmed in a post-COVID world to reduce expenses.

Interestingly, at a global level, 84% of business travellers said they cannot wait to travel again without fear of getting COVID-19. Four out of five said they have personally missed business travel – an even larger share (87%) said they miss leisure travel.

The findings indicate that business travellers have high levels of trust that their employer and airlines will take care of their health and safety – some 85% said airlines are doing everything they can to keep travel safe – but, they have much less confidence in the precautions being taken by their fellow travellers – nearly nine in 10 are concerned that their fellow travellers are not responsibly following COVID protocols.

Key questions though still remain on what travel regular business travellers think will be effectively replaced by meeting virtually? What is the opportunity cost of staying at your desk versus traveling to meet in person? “The answers to these and other questions are important, as businesses make decisions about future travel budgets, return to office, and the new criteria for traveling to meet with clients, develop business or attend conferences," says John Thompson, division president, international accident and health at Chubb.

That number though remains elusive. While it is clear from the responses is that those surveyed miss business travel and the benefits of face-to-face meetings, but they also acknowledge some benefits from working virtually. Notably, 73% said they can productively use the time they would have spent traveling, while more than four in five (82%) did admit that videoconferences and phone calls can be effective alternatives to business travel.

And just as we are seemingly emerging on the right side of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is stark warning in the survey responses – business travellers expect another pandemic. Some 80% of survey respondents – including 43% who strongly agree – expect another pandemic at some point in the future.

Rather than dwell on what this could mean, new data from Chubb and the National Center for the Middle Market (NCMM), housed at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, positively reveals that the worst of the current pandemic's economic impact might already be in the rearview mirror for middle market companies across the US.

While COVID-19 remains a significant concern, according to results from Chubb and NCMM's fourth-quarter Middle Market Indicator (MMI) report, the overall economic outlook of companies has improved. Since the second quarter of 2020, the confidence of middle market companies in the US and global economies rebounded by 10% and 11%, respectively, and expected revenue increased by 4%, nearing pre-pandemic levels.

Even as middle market companies look to the future, businesses will have to navigate the enduring impact of COVID-19. Approaching half (43%) of middle market companies report that the pandemic will have a negative long-term impact on their supply chain, and three in five (60%) have had to make "extreme" or "significant" long-lasting changes to their workplace due to safety concerns.

The MMI quarterly surveys are based on responses from 1,000 C-suite middle market company executives across all industries on key indicators of past and future performance in revenues, employment and allocation of cash, reporting on economic confidence – locally, nationally and globally.