Few sectors have been disrupted more by the Covid pandemic than travel – and business travel in particular. The start of the vaccine rollout may have lifted the Christmas gloom for many, however, the question remains as to what business travel will look like in 2021.
The strong likelihood is that business travel will see a significant bounce back in 2021 due to pent up demand, but levels (e.g. volumes) of travel will not reach normal with current sanctions and restrictions being eased towards the second half of the year.
Vaccines allied to testing both prior to departure and possibly upon arrival are seen to be game-changers by many. This will avoid the need for lengthy quarantines that are simply killing business travel.
Whilst your company might have spent much of the past few months planning for the ‘new normal’ of business travel, there is still much uncertainty before the UK government has rubber-stamped and implemented business travel procedures.
Here are a few things that you should bear in mind when planning your business travel plans for 2021.
2021 Business Travel for Senior Leaders
Traditionally travel is one of the major business expenses after wages and property costs. Covid has changed much of this. The advent of virtual meeting technologies such as Teams and Zoom has enabled businesses to carry on without travelling, as companies have shown considerable flexibility to the challenges. Technology has been at the vanguard of this.
Never has cost control been more important, as income generation becomes ever more challenging. Many companies have accelerated the digitalisation of their business processes, both in the way in which they manage workflows and in the way they charge for their services.
This is as relevant for business travel as for other aspects of business with the need to manage cost control tightly, as well as ensuring that you meet your duty of care obligations.
Safety in the post-Covid era will be at the core of travel. Increased use of digitisation will enable business travel to become even safer once the vaccine certification regime is improved.
The other major aspect will be sustainability. No longer will this be permitted to be a sidekick to the demand for reduced costs and increased profits; it will be at the heart of business travel in 2021 and beyond.
2021 Business Travel for Travel Managers
Nobody will be in the spotlight in 2021 more than travel managers, who will act as the ringmasters tasked with remobilising the workforce.
The new normal will bequeath new challenges. Traditional key business destinations and suppliers which were once familiar will now have new requirements and stipulations that the travel manager will have to master.
Travel managers will have to engage with new internal stakeholders for whom business travel was never previously a high priority in order to formulate and communicate new policies and procedures.
At the heart of this will be the need to control costs, and maximise opportunities provided by the new digitalisation in order to produce the safest, most streamlined and cost-effective business travel agency led programme.
2021 Business Travel for Travellers
All the research indicates that business travellers are keen to take once more to the skies – or perhaps take to the road – as soon as possible. Expect business travel to take off in the second half of 2021.
This enthusiasm will have to be tempered by reality as policies and procedures will have to be implemented before business travel can recommence.
Travel to certain destinations may no longer be available, or at least not without onerous quarantine rules. People will also have to become acquainted with touch free, digitalised technologies essential for the safe continuation of business travel.
Business travel will by necessity become more time consuming, with the need to test or even vaccinate prior to departure, as well as potentially longer queues at customs. And all this without taking into account the potential impact of a No Deal Brexit on business travel.
With certain business lounges closed, restricted food options on planes, and the requirement to wear masks throughout your journey and within airports, business travel might not be the same fun as it used to be. However, it still beats staring at that screen all day.
2021 Business Travel for Traveller Arrangers
At first it might seem like riding a bike again, but travel arrangers will soon find that the rules governing business travel have changed perhaps forever!
Certain popular flight options will not be available as flight schedules have changed. Perhaps one of your favourite and most trustworthy suppliers is no longer Covid compliant.
Inevitably, there will be new procedures and working practices that mean booking business travel may not be as straight forward as it once was.
Will you have to secure pre-trip approval? Do you have to book all your accommodation in advance? What insurance will you need to protect against you failing a Covid test prior to departure, or even before your return flight? Will travellers need a health passport? Will you need to book sustainable rather than the cheapest travel? Support from a business travel agent has become the norm for those currently travelling letting the traveller and travel arranger the latest advice prior to getting to the station or airport!
You might even have to change your business travel plans altogether should there be a local Covid flare up such as with Denmark’s mink farms.
Flexibility and preparedness will be key to successful business travel planning.
Hopefully, 2021 will see a return to business travel for many of us. However, this will not be without its own challenges, and it is best to prepare yourselves as best you can for all eventualities and to ensure that you seek the appropriate professional advice when you book your business travel for 2021.
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