Good grief we are going to need a holiday after this! I believe we are also becoming accustomed to a slower pace of life which will need time to transition back to venturing afar, whilst also allowing the planet a sharp intake of breath to reset.
Instinct tells me that when it’s safe to travel we’re still going to want to minimise our time on planes or at the airport, and to continue respecting individual distancing for some time, which may well impact upon aircraft configurations, airport public areas and demand for lounge access and personal space.
Initially, it is anticipated that demand will outstrip supply for the early days of recovery and whilst aircraft are recommissioned and repositioned around the globe. But who has that crystal ball?
What are customers saying?
Our clients, or at least the ones I have spoken with, vary between optimistic idealist and pragmatic realist. It’s interesting that searches for holidays in Spain next January are up by almost 2000% but there are no similar metrics for business.
Will demand outstrip supply or will the airlines be so keen to reclaim their slots that seats will, in fact, be more abundant than passengers? Half of BA’s A380s are currently mothballed in France and most of the short-haul fleet is parked at Bournemouth airport. Predictions of a five-year recovery time frame are commonplace, anticipating a whole world of effort to restore confidence in travel.
It is inevitable however that to start, we will have fewer choices, narrower horizons and airline volumes stepped back to 1995 levels. The competition will be fiercer than ever and some carriers already on the brink of failure will be pushed over the edge by those who market better.
There will be a new landscape, new language and a new normal in the world of business travel; and let’s not forget each country’s respective bail-out fund for their own domestic flag carrier will come at a price… and require payback, which has to come from somewhere.
Whilst in the initial stage airlines will be fighting for our early return with offers, incentives and competitive pricing like never before, the next step will be yield management in order to restore their depleted coffers and to repay the taxpayer.
Advice for travellers looking to book after Coronavirus
For some practical advice; book with a credit card, switch from credit account to lodging a card for payment to optimise both the extended terms, more valuable now for every cash-strapped business, whilst also securing the added protection that card payment can offer.
Notwithstanding the airline loyalty programmes with those such as BA’s own Amex Corporate Card being the last bastion of generous Avios rewards.
Check your travel insurance also, not only for pandemic cover but also changes in Foreign Office advice, it’s a sting in the tail that a full 60% of travel insurance policyholders are now struggling to reconcile.
It is likely that many countries will require some form of travel and health comfort either with self-certification or temperature monitoring of passengers through immigration, and there will be more hoops through which to jump to get visas.
A positive environmental impact
If you are turning left when you board your aircraft, the quality and comfort will be both expensive and in short supply as the social spacing of seat configuration becomes all the more precious, however, the flip side of that coin is that we travellers are going to be more conscientious, more sensitive to our health and that of others, and the planet. It’s an often-missed fact that airlines with the least environmental impact also happen to offer the cheapest seats. Who would have thought it!
The newest most agile carriers fly the most modern fleets with the best fuel economy and the highest passenger load factors. Flying cheap is not always as distasteful as you might think, and your FD might thank you for it as he squeezes the budget and rides the crest of the slump to recovery.
As an environmental enthusiast, I can’t help be inspired however by the reversal of over-tourism… even though it breaks my heart to say it! But clear skies, the sound of distant bird song and the lack of smog around the planet has become a thing of beauty that perhaps we should treasure and protect.
What will become the new ‘normal’ after Coronavirus?
Now many businesses will need to press the reset button and re-engage with their clients, suppliers and enterprise world-wide and there is plenty to suggest that not travelling could be the new norm. This only works if your competitor does the same and does not aim to fill the gap. It is a harrowing dilemma answered only by the right ROI. For every £ we spend on travel, UK Plc should aim for a £25 return. This is the new norm.
More of us will be travelling privately also. We want more space on aircraft, currently at a premium; more space at airports, currently at a premium, better hotel facilities, proper hygiene standards at the likes of AirBnB apartments, and private car transfers. Jets are already in more demand for those who only want to breathe the same air with people they know.
More time will be taken with better planning to optimise travel, and that treasured ROI, but also the new investment in making it extra-sustainable and affordable so we don’t kill the planet, or ourselves in the process.
Tourism also feeds sustainability these days with world heritage sites funded, clearwater projects, conservation initiatives and innumerable good works. Whilst I’m not saying these will stop, it’s those in the air and hotel, road and rail industries that have the right principles, matched with the best price, that will be worthy of support.
Half the excitement of travel is the planning and looking forward to an upcoming trip. So good advice and smart shopping remain paramount.
Travel plays a vital role in economies everywhere and an important contribution to the development of less well-off communities. We should think about the power of our £ and where we seek value for money.
So, to quench the thirst of anxiety forecasting the new landscape of business travel, when the current event horizon for COVID-19 comes into view, the first port of call is to invest your time in making wise choices based on a fluid landscape where the buzz is going to be even greater competition in the airline industry as well as your own.
Please forgive the obviously self-serving statement but, we are all going to need a good travel agent.