What it’s like to travel for business in the new normal

Benson Tang, executive director of Corporate Travel Community (CTC), based in Hong Kong, recalls the hoops he had to jump through to pull off the first face-to-face buyer event in Shanghai amid Covid-19.

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the aim of the one-day Shanghai event was to gather 100 corporate travel buyers and managers from all over China to address travel management matters.

While the pandemic did not force the event to be cancelled, postponed or (go) virtual, Corporate Travel Community (CTC) decided to trim the numbers by making the event, held at Fairmont Peace Hotel, by-invitation-only.

Fifty participants were registered for the event, but the fresh Covid-19 outbreak on June 11 in Beijing (caused) numbers fall to 38. Some from the capital pulled out due to China’s strict health QR code colour system, which (determines) its citizens (ability) to travel, while others were held back due to the unfolding situation.

I was given a unique mobile QR code upon my arrival at Pudong International Airport, which was to be my movement pass for my entire stay in Shanghai. I also had to provide information such as the district I was planning to do business in, and to determine which quarantine hotel I would be assigned to, as I had to be quarantined for 14 days.

My journey to Shanghai from Hong Kong International Airport started on June 3 at 08.30. The China Eastern Airlines flight I was booked on was cancelled at the last minute so I had to buy another ticket and departed eventually at 11.40 on Cathay Dragon.

I arrived at Pudong International Airport at 14.30 but only made it to the assigned quarantine hotel at 17.15, as the airport’s heath screening protocol was rigorous and included a throat sample swab for Covid-19. I could only attend my conference after further testing to check that I was virus-free.

I noticed that the immigration clearance process was entirely touchless with facial recognition and no fingerprinting. Meanwhile, my luggage was sprayed with sanitiser liquid as it was taken out of the bus.

I was told of my allocated room, which I then had to scan my QR code to gain access to. I was finally inside my room at 18.15, and a dinner box arrived 30 minutes later.

I noticed the hotel was completely sealed off with fencing, while exits were manned by the police. Quarantined guests were also informed there were many CCTV monitors and could only open their door to pick up meal boxes.

The quarantine hotel cost me a relatively modest RMB 250 (US$35) per night and another RMB50 for the food.

Although the entire process seemed troublesome, I was prepared to go through the quarantine.

After all, this was going to be the first face-to-face corporate travel event after the Covid-19 outbreak by any corporate travel organisation and hence, was of critical importance.

As a leading global organisation, CTC – powered by CAPA and under Informa Group, has a strong social responsibility to support the corporate travel industry.

Undoubtedly, Covid-19 has impacted our industry on an unprecedented scale. And now that China is allowing events to take place, CTC wanted to provide buyers with a face-to-face platform to discuss the new normal in corporate travel management.

I returned to Hong Kong on June 19, shortly after the event wrapped up on June 17. I am currently undergoing another home quarantine for 14 days. This time, I have to wear a wristband-tracking monitor that cannot be removed until July 1.

Benson Tang’s career in travel started more than 25 years ago, and has extensive knowledge of the corporate travel sector.

For over a decade he oversaw Goldman Sachs’ Asian travel programme as executive director, before being appointed regional director Asia for the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE). Tang joined the Corporate Travel Community in April 2019.

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