Essential changes for future trips

Ken Kuguru, managing director for Asia Pacific at Egencia, addresses what an essential business trip will mean now, and how companies can delicately balance traveller safety and ROI while returning to the regular rhythm of business.

What do you think the new normal of travel will be?
Business travel will return… in phases. We’re already seeing some signs of what that might look like in terms of the rise of international travel bubbles – like the New Zealand and Australia air corridor, and the China Green Channel programme where quarantine periods between designated countries are exempted.

Self-service will be a big trend as travellers and travel arrangers demand more choice on how they manage their bookings whether through an app, a chat window or a travel consultant. Social distancing trends will even extend the self-service trend into new arenas, such as self-check-ins at hotels.

What will be the most important to travel managers in the new normal?
This guidance around movement is changing all the time so travel managers need to have a good understanding of what the ‘new normal’ for travel looks like globally – such as what is required by countries in terms of quarantine periods and what are the hygiene protocols across hotels and different modes of transport.

For example, Hong Kong, Germany and even the UK are set to have 14-day quarantines on arrival which can easily run up the cost of a trip end to end.

It’s also important that travel managers align their travel programme with their organisation’s goals and roadmap for their business post-Covid-19. Defining a return on investment (ROI) for each trip will help travel managers define what an essential trip is for their particular company.

So, how would you define an essential business trip?
Companies will need to define what that means for them, and it will be different for each company, as will the strategic value of each trip to a business. It’s important to include new factors like quarantine periods when considering if a trip needs to be taken or not.

How will this affect corporate travellers?
Corporate travellers, particularly those who venture out on the road first, will be cautious and will need more reassurance from their company in line with government advice that the risk is low, and that they have access to 24/7 support if needed pre, during and post a trip.

Although we expect early business travel to be domestic, corporate travellers may need to be prepared to work from a hotel for two weeks if they cross a border which carries a 14-day quarantine.

How can both travel managers and corporate travellers prepare for this new normal?
That’s exactly what we’re doing now with our customers – getting them ready to get their travellers back on the road.

For travel managers, the focus is on managing travel risk across all aspects of business travel; from ensuring pre-trip approvals, to understanding suppliers new social distancing and/or health and safety measures so that their travellers can go on the road feeling confident that they have visibility to all the safest available options.

Important sources of information include government advice for official notifications or first-hand feedback from TMC traveller communities to get tips and tricks from what is happening on the ground from the business travel re-emergence pioneers.

Now is a good time to come up with a plan to maximise time on the ground, making sure travellers are equipped when heading out to the office from a hotel room for instance, or building in a leisure policy to include downtime for extended stays.

For travellers, they need to make sure they familiarise themselves with the details of their trip, any precautions that need to be taken, and know-how they can access support on the road, if needed, via their travel manager or TMC like us.

Which markets do you think have the highest chance of a full recovery soon?
As we’ve seen in Asia, recovery in terms of the easing of lockdown measures is linked to reduced infection cases. In countries like China, for instance, consumer confidence in domestic travel was up 60 per cent at the end of April, with people feeling safe to return to work according to a recent McKinsey report.

We’re also starting to see that across Europe, countries like France and Spain starting to reopen businesses and domestic travel picking up.

We expect to see recovery in line with ‘travel bubbles’ where neighbouring countries have quarantine exemptions in place like for China’s Green Channel Program where media outlets report that countries like South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland have already been given the green light.

What other business travel trends has Egencia noticed?
In terms of how we gather to do business, we’re likely to see a hybrid of digital connection and domestic travel in the near future. The further afield the journey, the more complications (and costs) may arise, which is why we may see companies focusing business travel in markets where they have a team on the ground who are able to maintain those in-person connections with domestic clients, partners, and suppliers.

As new facets – such as redefining trip ROI and maintaining a flexible travel policy – are being added to business travel management, one thing remains unchanged: smart organisations will approach business travel as a strategic investment and aim to align their travel programme within the new normal to achieve their business goals.

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