Vaccinations against COVID-19 have started at a differing pace around the world. The approval and roll-out of more vaccines is largely seen as a positive step for the return of business travel but it’s only part of the story, and there is still much that we do not know.
According to a survey of travel managers, GBTA reported that 82% of travel buyers think the availability of vaccines has some form of impact on the return to travel. However, only 10% of that majority said employees will be able to travel for work when they have been vaccinated. Others said it would require the wider population to have also been vaccinated, which will clearly take longer. More than half responded with ‘I don’t know’.
Despite the unknowns and uncertainties, airlines are starting to put additional procedures in place. Measures such as social distancing, mask-wearing and the use of hand sanitiser are likely to continue for some time. Whether business trips at your company are still happening, imminent or will take some time to restart, there are some factors you can consider now to be prepared.
Digital health passports
Will travellers need to show proof of vaccination to travel in future? There has been industry wide discussions over this topic with IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac and Qantas CEO Alan Joyce hinting at a possible mandate, with other airlines such as Singapore Airlines indicating that the mandate would be more effective if implemented through government-led policies.
Before this decision comes into effect, organisations from international tourism bodies to government bodies, airlines to private organisations have started to develop digital health passports. These mobile apps can contain the traveller’s COVID-19 test results and vaccination details, with some providing advice on what verifications are needed to travel or a list of accredited healthcare institutions that provide vaccines or COVID-19 tests.
Below are some digital health passports which give travellers access to their test and vaccination certificates, and/or contain details of regional and global testing and vaccination centres, as well as a registry of travel requirements for destinations.
- FCM Asia Digital Health Wallet: Launched in January in partnership with Affinidi, a Temasek backed technology company
- IATA Travel Pass: Etihad has announced it will start trialling the app, as have Emirates and Qatar Airways.
- CommonPass: Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss and JetBlue have started to roll out this app which has also been tested at Heathrow Airport.
Your TMC will be able to keep you updated on when these digital passports come into play and how best to inform travellers. Booking tools will be able to display COVID-related information so travellers can make informed decisions.
What should travel buyers consider?
1. Is a vaccine enough; what is your policy?
As suggested by the GBTA poll data above, a vaccine might not be enough for companies to relax business travel restrictions. You, along with other stakeholders, need to think about what needs to happen or the thresholds that will make your organisation more comfortable about sending employees on business trips. Does it depend on the vaccine roll-out in the country the traveller is visiting, for example?
There are also some practical factors to consider: borders need to be opened up, travel bans lifted and restrictions such as hotel quarantine eased. Your TMC can talk you through the details and help make amendments to your travel policy if needed.
2. Which digital health passport to use
If your TMC has a digital health passport implemented, such as FCM Asia’s digital health wallet, it will help to ease the transition and simplify your business travel process.
Otherwise ask your TMC to speak to airlines on your behalf, to save you the hassle of contacting them directly. If you eventually communicate the app/s to travellers, it may help to remind them of your preferred airline partners (if any) so that they are more likely to stick to one app. Your TMC can advise you on the direction to take and how to manage concerns such as data privacy.
3. How travellers will react
Sadly, COVID-19 has changed the way some people think about travel. The GBTA survey of buyers taken in Dec 2020 showed 53% of respondents thought employees were willing to travel for work. What of the other 47%; they may be worried about travelling until certain measures come into place. Some may not want to have the vaccine, which may affect their ability to travel. Harvard Business Review has predicted that companies will be sued for requiring employees to have vaccination proof before they return to the workplace. Will that be the case for travel too?
4. Can companies buy vaccines for travellers
With many countries prioritising the vulnerable and frontline healthcare workers for vaccinations, this means that it will take some time before the majority of the population will be vaccinated, including corporate travellers. There is an ongoing argument about whether businesses will be able to buy vaccines for employees. Harvard Business Review claims companies will make bulk purchases of the vaccine for employees and will use it as a way to attract and retain talent, with this BTN article highlighting this possibility to happen only when companies such as Astra-Zeneca and Pfizer are no longer selling to governments.
Always here #byyourside
While the world continues to wait in anticipation on the impact of vaccines on business travel, meetings and events, we are still helping clients, managing and adapting their travel policies and travel arrangements. Whatever happens, FCM is here to guide you through the complex travel regulations with expert guidance and emergency assistance.
Need additional or better support? Get in touch if you manage your company’s travel policy.