The Future of Business Travel

Business travel is as old as the traders who carted silks and spices between ancient civilisations. The physical movement of goods underpin global manufacturing and service firms rely on their staff flying around the planet. As the world continues to fight the Covid-19 pandemic we take a look at what the new normal for business travel might look like over the next couple of years.

At the time of writing this the UK has administered 84 million vaccines with 55% of the population now fully vaccinated. Although the UK may be considered one of the vaccine leaders, other countries are catching up quickly. As we look to open up, many other countries will not be far behind. We can look beyond our borders to the East with hope and see domestic travel rapidly reaching pre-pandemic levels in countries such as China.

It’s undoubtable that the travel industries have been forced through seismic change over the last couple of years. The businesses that have managed to negotiate the pressures will emerge leaner and more advanced.

A duty of care

Throughout the rest of 2021 and beyond a duty of care is expected to be on all corporates’ minds. Amadeus research shows that 74% of corporate respondents will now demand a duty of care and risk management procedure before making a booking.

Travel management companies (TMCs) will be focussed on providing peace of mind for those travelling for work, and their employees. Higher value itineraries will require careful management and flexibility to respond to the latest Covid-19 updates and the industry is undergoing a transformation to meet travellers and government demands for contactless and risk managed travel.

Going beyond the duty of care topic, policies addressing employee well-being both in the office or on a business trip were on the rise pre-pandemic. Some companies used them as a strategy to retain top talent, facing the changing demographic of the millennial workforce. Features such as getting more flexibility in trip itineraries, allowing bleisure inclusions, health food subsidies, international gym memberships, or the ability to select unique stays rather than the same old business hotels are a few examples of travel wellness initiatives. Experts agree that well-being measures will be decisive for employee satisfaction. 

Human interaction

One of the main service distinctions in business class travel is the increased level of interaction from staff. This might be through business lounges, or extra service in cabins. Unfortunately Coronavirus is passed from person to person, and staff illness can cripple a business so companies will be doing everything possible to reduce opportunities for their staff to pass on the virus.

Skilled staff have been forced out of the industry through being laid off or furloughed. It will take some time for companies to grow back to pre-pandemic levels and there may be some heavy shortages when the travel boom finally starts again. For now these companies are investing heavily in technology to automate and streamline as much of their business as possible.

In the new normal, minimal interaction with others door to door is now essential. The blending of human and technological touches will be crucial for rebuilding confidence. This might include more emphasis on paperless travel and technology driven check-in. Personalisation which used to come from staff may be delivered through technology, physical gifts, and end-to-end trip servicing.

Caring for the environment

Even before the pandemic minding the environment was rising up the priority list for business travellers. Covid-19 has only accelerated this from cleaner air statistics to lower emission levels and a growing awareness of the ability to conduct business remotely. Business travel for many is just becoming less necessary, especially for a younger, more tech savvy and environmentally conscious worker.

According to a survey by GlobalData, 76%* of respondents said they were influenced by how ethical/environmentally-friendly/social responsible a product/service is, highlighting the appetite for more sustainable offerings.

While consumer preferences are shifting with more awareness on the topic of sustainability, some believe that most of the changes in user behavior or corporate travel policy will be driven by regulatory pressures from governments. The UK Government has made a clear net zero carbon commitment by 2050 so tracking and offsetting your carbon footprint is becoming a priority for many individuals and businesses. Travel management companies are likely to promote more offsetting schemes and information on the cleanest ways to travel for different itineraries. For example travel management company (TMC) Egencia Travel’s game-changing new tool, which enables business travelers to compare rail alternatives to flights before purchase. The pandemic has upended America’s rental-car market , the leasing industry has seen a fall in the number of cars being taken on business contract hire agreements, according to industry body the BVRLA. Ride hailing and car sharing businesses continue to grow year on year.

Technology & frictionless travel

While travel as a whole will continue to be strictly regulated in the near future, individual travelers will become increasingly empowered due to duty of care and tech-enabled self-services.

One of the greatest pain points of travelling is providing data. With new requirements for coronavirus testing there are cases of unprecedented queues at air, land and sea ports. With strong regional differences in infection magnitude, the timing of waves, and the effectiveness of countermeasures making travelling highly undesirable for many.

Some early adopter travel management companies are already trialling contactless and touchless solutions, biometrics and digital traveller IDs to help streamline your travelling experience. Imagine if these companies were able to eliminate friction in the journey and deliver harmonised cross-border digitalised flow? It will be very interesting to see this technology develop over the next few years.

Other ways that travel companies continue to invite is through new classes of transportation. United plans supersonic passenger flights by 2029. Virgin Hyper loop technology is being tested and rolled out. Both Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos recently completed their first commercial spaceflights. Perhaps the future of travel to the US will be in a tube under the Atlantic ocean and business conferences will be held on the moon by 2100?

Conclusion

This is not the first global pandemic, and it will surely not be the last. Business travel will return but possibly in quite a different way from how we knew it to be. Masters of Mayfair are artisans of luxury accessories for travel and we look forward to the industry returning as soon as possible.

 

Sources:

  • Business travel may never fully recover from covid-19 – The Economist
  • The future of business Travel – Business Travel Association
  • GlobalData signals shift towards a low-cost, sustainable future for business travel – Hospitality Net
  • Will Business Travel Come All the Way Back? – Bloomberg
  • Industry experts weigh in on the future of business travel - TNMT
  • The pandemic has upended America’s rental-car market - The Economist
  • United plans supersonic passenger flights by 2029 - BBC
  • Virgin Hyperloop photo - Virgin 
July 27, 2021 — Dan Holman

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