The majority of organisations will take a phased approach to resuming domestic and international business travel over the next 12 months according to the first phase of a combined multinational ‘State of the Market’ survey by global travel management company, FCM Travel Solutions, and sister SME-specialist business travel provider Corporate Traveller.
A total of 1600 business travel managers, bookers and travellers at FCM and Corporate Traveller clients in EMEA, Asia, the Americas, India, Australia and New Zealand took part in the survey, conducted by FCM’s consulting arm 4th Dimension last month, in order to give both TMC divisions greater insight into their clients’ prevailing sentiments on business travel conditions as countries emerge from the Covid-19 crisis.
Echoing much of the insights we have seen recently it highlighted a clear recover for business travel, but unlike many others that have focussed on general traveller sentiment, the findings provide some clear guidance on the potential recovery path that business travel may follow.
While the number of global Covid-19 infections has been rising to new daily highs the disease and the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes it is being better managed in the countries where it has had the biggest impact. Total global cases are now approaching ten million, almost four million of which are still active and nearly 500,000 people have been killed by the pandemic.
More than two thirds (70%) of respondents to the survey agreed or strongly agreed that they expected to increase business travel gradually over a period time with consensus peaking in business travel returning domestically in one to three months (40% of respondents) and internationally in six to twelve months (32% of respondents).
The easing or complete lift of border restrictions ranked as the primary trigger for resuming business travel (70% said this would have significant impact) closely followed by organisational endorsement that it is safe to travel (68% of respondents indicated traveller safety will have a significant impact).
Business travel recovery will be led by Asia and EMEA, according to survey participants in those regions. In Asia, 50% of respondents have already begun booking domestic travel and 37% expect to resume international travel in three to six months. In EMEA, 37% of survey participants expect to travel domestically within one to three months, and 32% anticipate starting to book international trips within three to six months.
This is due to faster opening of borders intra region and easier movement geographically compared to the rest of the world. The highest level of uncertainty around when domestic and international business travel will resume significantly was in the Americas with 28% of respondents saying that they did not know when travel would return.
The survey results also provide some valuable insights into how long it will take different industry sectors to resume travel. Corporates in the mining and construction sectors indicate the fastest return to travel, according to the research. Almost two-thirds (64%) of respondents in mining sector expect to travel domestically within one to three months and 69% of respondents in construction sector expect to travel domestically and internationally within the same timeframe.
Construction (39%), training & education (35%) and financial services (34%) sectors indicate increasing business travel within first six months, due to a shorter lead time in arranging business travel, while winning new business (43% of respondents) and managing existing client relationships (39% of respondents) are the two dominant business activities motivating organisations to a return to travel.
The high demand for organisational endorsement that it is safe to travel is something that must be reflected in company travel policies to support the recovery, but 28% of respondents said they were unsure what needed to change. Of those that did indicate areas for travel policy change, “health and hygiene” and “duty of care” considerations were the two dominant categories.
Asked whether changes implemented during Covid-19 will reduce their need for business travel, there was a pretty much 50/50 split between participants agreeing or disagreeing and interestingly no clear difference between the small businesses and the larger multinationals that were questioned.
It is a pretty much agreed view that business travel volumes will not reach pre-coronavirus levels and this survey found that around half of respondents believed that their own business travel volumes will return to the previous degree. It is still unclear what percentage of business travel will be lost either from fear or from technology.
A second phase of the State of the Market study among the same participants has now been initiated by 4th Dimension and will hopefully be able to highlight any marked variation in sentiment as governments continue to relax lockdown restrictions, propose air travel corridors, or implement quarantine periods for international travellers.