Three trends that will change business travel in the Covid-19 era

The impact of Covid-19 is far-reaching and will have long-term implications for the business travel industry, businesses and individuals alike. With the introduction of safer and more sustainable practices, the next iteration of business travel is poised to turn a new page

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Renaud Nicolle, vice president, business travel, Amadeus Asia-Pacific
Renaud Nicolle, vice president, business travel, Amadeus Asia-Pacific

Since Covid-19 first hit, business travel has ground to a halt. Companies across Asia-Pacific shifted to remote working models almost overnight, amid border closures and social distancing restrictions. According to data from Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), almost every member company ‚Äď up to 98 per cent ‚Äď cancelled or suspended international business travel, with 92 per cent ceasing domestic travel as well.

Now, as some markets begin reopening, companies are considering how to return to the new normal in an environment where lockdowns will ease, but could be reinstated at any time.

With many APAC countries planning arrangements or ‚Äúbusiness travel bubbles‚ÄĚ ‚Äď Japan and Malaysia being the latest to negotiate quarantine-free business travel ‚Äď companies are starting to think about their Covid-19 recovery.

While some business travellers may be missing human interaction and want to visit clients and colleagues, others may be wary of traveling due to the exposure to Covid-19. The situation will have a lasting impact on business travellers’ expectations on health and well-being, as well as flexibility and connectivity. Leaders therefore, need to ensure they can meet duty of care obligations at every step of the journey.

As companies look to resume business travel, they need to design a comprehensive corporate policy that can evolve with the changing environment and have the right technology in place to manage it. To do this, here are three trends that companies and their travel management companies (TMCs) should consider:

1. Design a flexible corporate travel policy

The first step in designing a travel policy is to understand the needs of travellers and the business. Employees will want to exercise greater control over their travel arrangements such as choosing a route with direct flights or better sanitisation checks. They will also want access to real-time information to help them make informed decisions such as schedule changes, cancellations or other potential disruptions.

Corporate travel policies also need to be agile to evolve in a changing environment. Companies will need to have the latest information on a specific country’s travel or quarantine restrictions, the health and safety measures which hotels and local restaurants have implemented, and local regulations on social distancing such as compulsory mask wearing. Each trip might also have an appropriate risk management process.

To efficiently manage this, companies will require tools such as Amadeus Mobile Messenger which can provide real-time status and alerts about specific regions and countries at risk and locate all travelers globally at a glance by region / country / city to keep employees safe and their business continuity plans on track.

TMCs like BCD Travel have created assessments to help companies gauge whether duty of care practices and policies are effective and comprehensive enough to cover travel risks. In addition, Expedia Group has introduced new initiatives to collect and display property-level health and hygiene information for travellers to view on its platform and understand the health and hygiene measures suppliers have in place.

2. Make travel contactless and frictionless

With new social distancing regulations at airports and traveller expectations for hygiene at all touchpoints, companies and TMCs will need to be aware of new technology that will emerge to create touchless and frictionless experience. With cloud technology, travelers can now check in from their home, workplace or hotel. Travelers can receive a boarding pass barcode on their mobile phones to print their bag tags.

Once at the airport, travellers can drop their bags at an automated bag drop unit, where touchless barcode scanners scan the bag and an automatic 3D analysis will ensure the bag is suitable to accept. Some airports are also trialing ‚Äúoff-airport check-in‚ÄĚ enabling check-in and bag-drop to take place at different areas within the airport such as car parks, and dining areas, or off the airport entirely at hotels, train stations, and events.

The implementation of biometric-based technology for passenger processing at border control, security and boarding gates might also be accelerated by this crisis, as well as automated health testing. Companies need to ensure employees are informed on new developments that will impact their journey, as well as check with TMCs on new services like Airport VIP security access or ground transfer for a safer trip.

3. Focus on long-term digitisation and sustainability

Prior to Covid-19, there were growing expectations from employees and companies for more sustainable travel options. As corporations look to build long-term resilience into their operations, we can expect digital transformation and sustainability to be major areas of focus over the next decade. Today, many companies factor in sustainability in their air, ground and hotel sourcing processes in their corporate travel programmes.

Across the business travel space, there are a raft of initiatives to help companies, TMCs and travelers reduce their environmental impact. TMCs such as FCM Travel are working with airlines to offer companies carbon offsetting schemes for travelers. Hotels such as the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) are reducing plastic consumption and using recycled materials for bedding. Amadeus’ corporate tools also enable TMCs to track and understand their carbon footprint for business travel in the booking and pre-trip phase.

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