Uncertainty of the corporate travel landscape continues to cloud its progress towards the ‘new normal’

25 June, 2020

Slowly but surely, countries across the world have started opening up borders and business travellers are starting to emerge out of lockdown. Companies around the world may have started to look at comprehensive solutions to rebuild traveller confidence but for many of them, “the uncertainly of the corporate travel landscape continues to linger at the back of their minds,” says FCM Travel Solutions, a global provider of travel management services.

But as we return to travel, what are the important issue to consider? Like the rest of the world, corporate travel managers are finding themselves in a new normal with vastly different issues to consider as they gradually feel their way through the myriad of information about what effect the pandemic has had and will continue to have on business travel.

They may not have been doing much flight booking recently but a lot of their time has been taken up repatriating staff from around the world. Stepping carefully through all the details of each country as they gradually open up, discover what flights are still operating and keeping staff safe in the meantime takes time and energy.

As the world gradually lifts lockdown restrictions, it is generally agreed that leisure travel will resume much earlier than business travel with signs of recovery already being seen in many areas. But due to the travel restrictions in place for so many weeks, the pandemic has demonstrated to a lot of companies that much travel can be replaced by video conferencing, leading travel managers to predict that a lot of international travel will be deferred until 2021.

FCM Travel Solutions highlighted in its recent ‘Representation vs Reality: Is business travel really needed post COVID-19?’ webinar that creating a new travel policy is one of the main areas of focus for travel managers right now, with new layers of approval and budget considerations being threaded into the mix.

Managers will be delving deeper into the reason for a trip and whether there is an alternative. The term ‘essential travel’ is likely to be redefined in the coming months. Winning new business is one of the main reasons a company would consider going on a business trip, but against that will be questions about what alternatives exist to the travel, what risks are associated with any travel and whether they are likely to lose the business by not going.

It is believed that travel related to health care, manufacturing and supply chains will mostly get back to normal as soon as possible. Face-to-face meetings are seen as extremely important so any client-facing functions such as factory visits will likely be back up and running quickly.

Many travel managers are seeing their travel budgets being put under the spotlight. Up to 80% of FCM’s clients have reported that their travel budgets will drop from between 50-70% and will form part of the cost cutting measures required by companies to preserve cash flow. Previous travel resources are likely to be reallocated to issues such as risk management and continuous investment on automation and digitalisation.

In order to facilitate those essential travel trips and provide support to their staff, companies are reporting that they are busy creating new travel handbooks to help their travelling staff. The handbooks are likely to include country guides, hotel directories and details of any health issues or requirements. What measures have airlines and hotels put in place and is any price differential justifiable? The travel manager will need to be up to speed on all aspects when selecting vendors.

Emergency contacts and information on how to get back home quickly should the need arise need to be included. Travel managers will have to be up to date on the changes and requirements happening in countries and cities to ensure they can provide complete advice to the traveller. Many business travellers may not be that comfortable with the idea of travelling to a certain destination so need to have all information to hand to make them feel as safe as possible.

Risk management is going to be an important aspect in the months to come. For instance will responsibility lie with human resources or with the security team? Different companies will likely handle this in different ways but whoever handles it must take all aspects into consideration, especially when travelling to high risk destinations.

The travel manager’s role is set to become more demanding because while the effects of the pandemic might be easing in a lot of the world, it’s likely to change travelling habits for good.