What Will the Future of Business Travel Look Like Post COVID-19?

The coronavirus pandemic has driven business travel to a halt, but what will it look like when workers hit the road again?

A late April study from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) found optimism about a return.

“The global business travel industry remains at a standstill, but we are finally beginning to see some light at the end of this very long tunnel,” said Scott Solombrino, GBTA CEO. “GBTA members are planning their post-coronavirus recovery plans and most expect to be operational in 2020. This is a positive sign. The majority of GBTA member companies expect domestic business travel to resume in the next two to three months and most expect employees will be willing to travel. We have waited a long time for there to be optimism around the pandemic in our industry, and it should continue to grow as we get closer to halting the spread of this disease.”

While many see business travel resuming before year’s end, it’s unclear what shape that may take. One important aspect is how comfortable workers will feel about traveling.

In the latest wave of MMGY’s Travel Intentions Pulse Survey (TIPS), there was the slightest uptick in the number of travelers who felt safer about attending off-site business meetings.

In March, 16 percent of respondents felt safer, but in early April that dipped to 11 percent. However, in its latest wave of the survey ending on April 24, that number ticked back up to 17 percent.

GBTA found that a number of benchmarks need to be met before travelers feel comfortable traveling for work once again.

Ninety-two percent said that they needed to see a decline in new infection rates, and 91 percent said that governments needed to lift travel restrictions or advisories. Ninety percent noted they would need to see guidelines or statements from public health agencies such as the WHO or CDC and eighty-nine percent said there needed to be effective anti-viral treatments.

Many business travelers noted that stay-at-home orders would need to be removed before they would participate in business travel and that they would want a vaccine.

However, like leisure travel, business travelers are looking forward to getting back on the road. Twenty-six percent said they were eager to travel again for business in the early April TIPS survey and more, 28 percent, replied the same in the latest wave of the survey.

A major hurdle for getting business travelers back on the road is getting people to feel comfortable again in more crowded spaces such as on airplanes and in airports.

Already, airlines such as American, Delta, Lufthansa and United are blocking middle seats to create more distance. Airports could institute new measures such as temperature checks in the future, as well.

There will also be a lot of promotion and reassurance of customers regarding cleanliness. Hotels are already rapidly updating and promoting new policies on cleaning and disinfecting spaces.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association is working on new health and safety standards. “Safe Stay” measures include guest health protocols, employee responsibilities, cleaning guidelines and social distancing requirements. In addition, the rules will be updated in accordance with all federal, state and local laws.

“Hospitality at its core is an industry of people taking care of people,” AHLA CEO Chip Rogers said in a statement. “The safety of our guests and employees has always been our number one priority. Now as we work to reopen our nation’s economy, we want to ensure travelers that hotels will be cleaner and safer than ever before when they are ready to resume traveling once again.”

While many people have been connecting via Zoom, WebEx and GoToMeeting, experts say that face-to-face meetings will not disappear altogether, necessitating business travel in the future.

“People will still need to network, learn, build relationships,” Evan Konwiser, executive vice president of product and strategy for American Express Global Business Travel told the New York Times. “None of this will change. There will probably be less density and more hand sanitizer.”

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