Global ‘State of the Market’ Study Reveals Slow but Steady Rebound of Corporate Travel

Fifty percent of organisations have begun travelling again, but with stipulations, according to the third phase of the ‘State of the Market’ survey by global TMC, FCM Travel Solutions. Conducted by FCM’s consulting arm 4th Dimension (4D), the final phase of this survey consisted of one-to-one interviews in August 2020 with 250 of FCM’s multi-national large-scale clients globally in over 60 countries.

The workshops examined a new path forward for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, as corporate travel resumes amid new safety and hygiene requirements and protocols. It follows on from the results of two State of the Market surveys released in May and June, both conducted among 2,320 business travel managers, bookers and travellers in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, EMEA and the Americas, to gauge their sentiments on business travel during the COVID-19 crisis.

While 50% of respondents said they have employees already travelling or booking reservations to travel in the near future, resuming travel will be different for everyone. The combined results of the State of the Market research (April to August 2020) shows that over 90% of businesses indicated that they planned to travel domestically and short haul international flights, within three months of government re-opening borders and lifting restrictions such as quarantine. Yet the number of trips taken will likely be lower, as only 26% of businesses are planning to return to their pre-COVID-19 levels for domestic travel during 2021. The remaining 74% of businesses predict reduced domestic travel for the immediate year ahead. The average number of business trips per traveller pre-COVID, was 6-8 per year; this number is likely to fall between 3 and 4 trips per person, per year until 2023.

Clients still have long-haul travel plans on hold indefinitely, as they assess the balance between need and safety. In particular, national businesses in China, Australia, New Zealand and USA were less likely to have long-haul international plans for 2021, indicating only domestic and short-haul international travel will be planned for next year. 29% of respondents from China said they won't be travelling long haul, while 16% of respondents in Australia, 22% in New Zealand and 7% in the USA indicated the same.

“From the difficult first step of deciding when and how to kickstart international travel, to filling in the gaps between travel policies and needs of the travellers, restarting business travel will require a multi-prong approach with buy-in from all stakeholders. FCM is committed to helping customers evolve their travel programmes and policies to enhance business agility across the organisation in order to springboard the rebound process”

- Bertrand Saillet, Managing Director for Asia, FCM

The below provides a snapshot of professionals currently travelling globally:

  • Industries who continued to travel or recommenced travel the fastest were Mining & Wholesale, with approximately 40% of respondents from those businesses saying they continued travelling throughout the global shutdown. 80% have resumed travel at this point.
  • Construction and food services follow closely behind with approximately 70% of respondents indicating that they’ve started travelling again.

In Asia, the financial services, science and technology, education and training, mining and construction sectors were one of the first to resume travel. Across all industries, the first groups of people to travel will be/have been sales, client management and project workforce who are focused on business growth, customer retention and the resumption of projects. 19% of respondents agree that administration and internal support staff are the least likely to travel in the near future as they are not client-facing.

The top two priorities for many respondents across Asia were budget and risk management also known as duty of care. FCM also remains cognizant of the fact that triggers for business travel include travelling when safe (vaccine or virus eradicated), borders reopening, increase in traveller confidence and the ability to appropriately track travellers. Moreover, the study revealed that the future of travel buying behaviour will be influenced by:

  • Airline, hotel, car/ground COVID-safety protocols (37% of respondents are reviewing their hotel suppliers to ensure they are COVID-safe and 25% of respondents rate Duty of Care their number one focus as travel resumes in their business)
  • Shortened purchase window (the average purchase window for domestic travel has dropped from 7-10 days (pre-COVID) to 3-4 days post-COVID)
  • Flexible fares
  • Avoidance of overnight requirements
  • Virtual meetings as a back-up

“COVID-19 may have exposed vulnerabilities in the corporate travel ecosystem but companies, together with travel suppliers and travel management companies are working hard to recalibrate the travel-risk ratio for business travel resumption. The needs of our customers and their travellers have evolved and it is crucial to address them in order to start building new norms for the industry in the post-COVID travel era. The new standards of business travel need to start taking root now,” added Bertrand.

In addition to focusing on budgets, traveller confidence and safety procedures, businesses large and small are re-evaluating their travel policies in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever before, a travel policy ensures businesses have set guidelines around traveller safety, budgets, required documentation and purpose for travel, while empowering employees to use careful judgement when booking and incurring travels expenses. 84% of businesses interviewed have active travel policies, either at a national or global level. During COVID-19, 40% of respondents who had existing policies introduced interim travel policies, providing more restrictive guidelines for travellers. Interim policies include varying definitions of indefinite travel bans, classifications for business-critical travel (where safe), new approval procedures, general guidelines for changed supplier services and also procedures for business meetings. 50% of customers are making further changes to their policy as travel resumes.

Priorities of revised policies include: health & hygiene; pre-trip approval; business class travel approval; whether the business is essential; journey changes; adhering to COVID conduct; using preferred and COVID safe suppliers.