Vaccine programmes are now in action across many countries and there are more positive signs that we have a much better understanding of a pandemic that has brought travel to a near standstill over the past 12 months. But, it is a fluid situation and significant uncertainty remains. This means there are still “high levels of anxiety” regarding travel from both corporate travellers and their organisations, according to International SOS Australia and New Zealand director risk services Peter Curtis.
Speaking this week at the Feb-2021 edition of CAPA Live – a monthly virtual summit, offering insights, information, data and live interviews with airline CEOs and industry executives across a next-gen virtual event platform – Mr Curtis said: “A lot of that is driven by the ‘infodemic’ – there is so much information out there for us to digest and the rise of misinformation and disinformation has really skewed our ability to digest what is actually relevant”.
Mr Curtis was a panellist in the CTC – Corporate Travel Community Masterclass session at the virtual event where he was joined by Martin Warner, principal at MW Travel Consultancy, and Amarnath Lal Das, general manager for India travel at Accenture, in a discussion into the changing needs of corporates and their travellers, how TMCs are meeting new expectations, and at what cost.
Earlier this week we highlighted if it time to seek out Plan B as Covid mutations hit optimism on 2Q and 3Q 2021 recovery and it becomes evident the airline industry will never be the same again. Mr Curtis anticipates a similar changes to the corporate travel sector. “No doubt, the travel landscape is going to be very, very different to pre-COVID times… the decision and the necessity for travel will be something that will be thought over a lot more in depth,” he said.
Even though travel has been heavily restricted, Mr Curtis acknowledged that there has remained a limited demand. “We’ve seen a lot of essential travel happening regardless of the pandemic… there are many industries that have continued to travel as per normal,” he said.
A rare use of the word normal in the challenging circumstances of 2020 and 2021. MW Travel Consultancy principal Martin Warner was slightly more pessimistic and sees normal as a marketplace where corporate travel budgets likely to be cut for the foreseeable future.
“Clearly the pandemic has changed the needs of corporates and their travellers… and that will certainly be true post pandemic as well”. Certainly as the pandemic timeframe continues to extend, the economic impact on the corporate customer is leading to an economic recession scenario, with travel budgets that are likely to be cut for the foreseeable future,” he explained.
Accenture’s general manager for India travel Amarnath Lal Das believes the new environment will mean the role of TMCs will change’ to become “more of a consultative and collaborative approach”. Mr Das added: “We expect the TMC to be a subject matter expert”, providing information and feedback on travel programmes and providing services across the entire traveller journey.
The CTC Masterclass was just part of the CTC supported content during the Feb-2021 session of CAPA Live. In Benson’s Bow-Tie Briefing, Dr Benson Tang, executive director of CTC – Corporate Travel Community, spoke to Stephen Turner, group procurement manager at Wesfarmers, to get the travel buyer perspective on the current state of the market.
He supports the view business travel will remain restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, and said: “Unfortunately, until vaccines are rolled out worldwide, and proven to be effective we’ll continue to suffer with closures of international borders and even if they are opened there will be severe restrictions on travel, which is a major impediment to business travel”.
Mr Turner also stated that he expects technology will replace some in-person meetings, but not all. Similarly, he sees automation replacing some jobs, but that travel will remain “people-oriented”. He believes video conferencing will replace some in-person meetings and events, but not all. He said: “You can’t replace face-to-face contact… especially with building relationships initially”. On automation, he noted “there’s a very big place for the human element” as “travel has always been a people-oriented business”.
In a keynote presentation Simon McGrath, CEO Pacific at Accor, explored the accommodation providers viewpoint and the role of the important sector within the travel space and what beyond 2021 could look like for hoteliers. The next decade will be “exciting” according to Mr McGrath, but he warned “there will be a few false starts , there is no doubt about that. We are experiencing that right now in many areas.”
It will be a different world for some time, but he expects everyone to quickly adapt, highlighting that after 911 numerous security initiatives were introduced at airports and hotels, many of which remain in place today. “These have become part and parcel of everyday travel,” he said and he expects a similar environment in the post-Covid environment.
While much of the discussions point to some positive signs, CTC – Corporate Travel Community executive director Benson Tang said it is clear that worldwide airline bookings are still not reflecting the “good news” regarding progress in COVID-19 vaccination programmes. In his own welcome and outlook sharing the latest industry trends and analysis, he explained net passenger bookings are “basically not reflecting the optimism at the moment”.