FCM Travel Solutions, the corporate travel business of the Flight Centre Travel Group, predicts a “great re-set” for business travel. “After all, travel has changed forever,” it explains in a new whitepaper ‘Dare to be different: The future of business travel’ that identifies five key trends that the company foresees as shaping corporate travel in 2021 and beyond. “It’s time for a positive, solutions-driven, more conscious – and alternative – mindset,” it proclaims.
COVID-19 has certainly turned our world upside down and brought our lives, priorities and habits into sharp focus. It is therefore no surprise that companies will have to reconsider how they approach business travel. “There’ll be no return to pre-pandemic status quo. Navigating a post-COVID world is going to require a new way of thinking, new technology and a positive, growth mindset,” says Chris Galanty, global CEO of Flight Centre Corporate.
COVID-19 is having a continuing impact on consumer behaviour, attitudes towards office work, business and leisure travel, digital innovation, health, education and much, much more. Against this backdrop, FCM advocates that a return to business travel will require “a new and unconventional approach” – what it describes as an “alternative mindset which puts people, information, innovation and responsible travel at the heart of any travel programme”.
The role of the travel manager is changing in this time of uncertainty as they take on even more responsibility of not just staying informed of latest information, travel advisories and alerts, but also an increasing focus on duty of care and traveller wellbeing. That’s not to mention the additional pressure on travel budgets that the pandemic has ultimately placed.
“Travel managers are looking for an alternative, agile partner. One who can help get them back on the road safely, seamlessly and successfully – and in-line with their own changing goals and objectives,” notes FCM and declares.
An uneven playing field in terms of economic recovery, vaccination programmes and lockdown levels across the world makes forecasting any return to ‘normal’ for business travel nearly impossible, but still FCM has identified some trends to support that journey.
A heightened focus on safety
Top of mind for any travel manager for the foreseeable future will be duty of care with the burden of keeping travellers safe and healthy being felt keenly by decision-makers and travel bookers. “Companies today – more so than ever before – want to be able to track their travellers while they’re on the road. They want to know exactly where their travellers are if they need to bring them back,” says FCM.
For hotels, the focus will be “less on nice-to-haves like attractive rooftop bars or indoor pools and more on the latest sanitisation measures,” it says, while for airlines, the priority will be “biosafety, sanitisation and touchless technology”.
Technology will continue to boost traveller confidence
For travellers today, 24/7 availability is “not just a convenience, it is a necessity,” says FCM, and adopting technology to streamline the user experience, eliminate friction and maximise safety is a popular answer to restoring and nurturing traveller confidence.
“Traveller confidence will remain a key focus for travel managers in the years to come,” says FCM, with its FCM State of the Market survey of travel managers discovering words such as ‘challenging’, ‘difficult’ and ‘uncertain’ as being used to describe corporate travel since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Smarter ways to tackle budgets
The FCM State of the Market survey shows that while the average number of business trips per traveller was 6-8 per year in pre-COVID times, this number is forecasted to fall to 3-4 trips per annum until the year 2023. Meanwhile, approaching a third (31%) of companies have indicated a decrease in travel budget for 2021.
Smarter ways to tackle and maximise the travel budget will be an important focus for the years ahead, FCM anticipates. Even though travel requirements will be next to impossible to predict for the coming year, FCM notes that will be “good practice” to review past travel spending and “make smart choices for the future”.
A flexible mindset
From travel programmes to supplier negotiations and traveller sentiment, a flexible mindset is key to navigate the new post-COVID landscape, says FCM. With no two days the same, travel programmes “need to be flexible and easily adaptable to changing travel realities,” it says.
The majority of travel suppliers have also adopted more flexible booking policies and solutions and it is now easier to make a booking and to postpone or cancel it should a COVID-related event or problem get in the way ahead of an employee’s departure.
“As COVID is likely to hang around for the next few years, these flexible booking policies and solutions will likely remain in place for a long time to come in an effort to boost company and corporate traveller confidence,” says FCM.
New ways of engaging with suppliers
FCM believes hotel contracting will look very different in 2021 and beyond. “Travel managers now have an entirely new set of criteria to evaluate their choice of hotels: from hygiene protocols to cleanliness, safety, improved meal offerings and contactless technologies,” it says.
Many hotels and chain groups are now providing regular communication and demonstrated evidence of their new standards in a bid to grow traveller confidence. “What is certain, is that COVID has created a buyers’ market for the first time in 10 years,” notes FCM, with market research conducted by FCM Consulting, suggesting global hotel rates in key cities are set to reduce by an average of -4.5% in 2021.
“Over 50% of hotels are offering a combination of fixed negotiated rates combined with a dynamic discount rate off Best Available Rate (BAR) enabling travellers to select the most favourable rate option,” it adds.
Airline engagements will also look decidedly different in 2021 and beyond, as the aviation landscape has changed considerably since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Airlines are needing to constantly adjust their schedules in a bid to anticipate traveller demand, government directives and border closures.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of travel buyers (56%) in the FCM State of the Market Survey indicated that they are reviewing their airline supply strategy. “The changes they are considering include pricing reviews, risk management reviews, as well as route and capacity changes,” says FCM.