Since March 2020, businesses globally have been forced to adapt to a whole new way of life. Sales pitches take place via Zoom and collaborative meetings require screen sharing and a lot of “can you see my screen?” Or perhaps the most common phrase that we hear a few times each meeting: “you’re on mute.” Companies and employees are finding their way through this unchartered territory in the hopes of returning to normal, whatever that might look like, and are starting to ask themselves…when should we start traveling again?
Both Domestic and International trips are still taking place, but at a fraction of the pre-COVID volume. However, there are certainly some green shoots appearing across the globe and domestic travel is clearly trending up from where it bottomed out at the end of March. Some airlines that went dormant at the height of the pandemic are starting to fly again and hotels are welcoming back travelers with their new and improved cleanliness programs.
So how do companies know when they should get their travelers back on the road?
FCM’s recent global State of the Market Research project revealed that the top two triggers for a return to travel were to win new business and to manage existing relationships. No doubt businesses will be looking to regrow quickly following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the results also revealed that most expect a staggered return to travel and recognized that health, hygiene and safety of their traveling employees must be their top priority.
Regardless of where your business is at in terms of preparing for any resumption of travel, it’s important to have a plan in place. One of the first steps is to define your version of ‘permissible travel’. Many businesses are adopting the equation: Permissible travel = approved reasons for travel + traveler preparedness + government guidelines.
The foundations have been laid in terms of government guidelines, and many companies have used this period to update their internal processes in collaboration with their TMC and travel suppliers. However, traveler sentiment and confidence are much more complex issues.
Is the business traveler ready?
This is the question that most travel managers are currently trying to answer. It is likely that sentiment will vary broadly between different employees. The road warrior who clocked 100 flights last year will likely not have the same appetite to get back on the road as frequently. Or perhaps that younger colleague who shares a basement suite with 2 roommates might be the first to put their hand up to get some space and will happily fly to Boston for that sales pitch.
Either way, the important thing to prepare for (with any return to travel in your horizon) is the ability to offer assurance to your employees who will be out on the road.
After months of lockdown and social distancing, travelers will need to feel confident that their safety is prioritized before they hit the road. They will also want to understand the measures in place to ensure their wellbeing, and the support and protocols in place to keep them safe. Travel managers and bookers will therefore need to take a ‘people first’ approach to restarting their travel program. This includes assessing and understanding traveler readiness and sentiment, conducting a travel policy review that incorporates a strong duty of care component, and equipping your travelers with relevant information and resources to support them.
How do you understand traveler readiness?
Ask them. Take some time to create a survey that simply asks your employees how they are feeling about a return to travel and how prepared they are to get back out on the road. We’ve put together a basic but important survey that can be used as a template to gauge your team member’s thoughts about business travel. Feel free to download it here as a helpful starting point.
What should be in your Travel Policy?
This is all about looking at your current travel policy and updating it to reflect the new world since the pandemic hit. If your organization is eager to create a culture which promotes safety, hygiene and wellbeing, then you need to make sure that is reflected in your travel policy. Duty of care is more important than ever, so it should be a key component within your policy, but your policy should also reflect the modern needs of travelers – such as convenience and personal preference.
To help with this process, FCM has created a Return to Travel Framework and supporting workbook to help businesses address the key policy areas that need to be reviewed. Working through this toolkit provides the opportunity for internal collaboration, expert analysis and fresh thinking that will pave the way to develop a stronger travel program that balances business objectives and traveler wellbeing.
How do you provide relevant info and resources, without the overload?
Reliable facts and information are essential to build traveler trust and peace of mind. However, information overload can have the opposite effect and may lead to anxiety and stress. The COVID-19 pandemic is the ultimate case study for information overload and misinformation. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it best when he noted that “we’re not just fighting an epidemic; we are also fighting an infodemic”.
Innovative technology combined with the expertise of a travel specialist can help travelers and companies make sense of the information overload and drill down to relevant facts only.
FCM has created a dedicated global Travel News Hub that draws information from various sources around the world to provide your travelers what they need to know in an interactive way. Users can search by supplier category, country or region for the latest news and safety procedures, or use the live map tool or conversational AI to quickly find exactly what they are looking for.
As your travelers get back on the road, consider implementing post-travel debriefs so that information on the new travel experience can be shared with other employees. Having a strong internal communications plan in place will also be key to relaying important changes and updates to booking procedures and protocols as they evolve.
The business travel landscape has certainly changed dramatically and there are countless questions that need to be answered by organizations that have relied heavily on their road warriors in recent years. Having a strong partnership with your TMC who can help to make sense of the new world and support your business with a combination of people, data and technology will be essential in building a traveler centric program that’s fit for purpose.