Corporate travel managers offer cautious optimism for industry’s future

Business travel has a long, multi-year recovery ahead

Corporate travel managers have reacted with “cautious optimism” to the global rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations, saying little has changed and they will continue to face challenges in 2021 and 2022.

Florence Robert, regional travel manager Asia-Pacific, Ericsson, commented: “There are no changes for the time being and we have no intention to make any changes until the situation is clearer.

Business travel has a long, multi-year recovery ahead

“Many countries have not yet started vaccinations. Those that have are still far from having 70 per cent of the population vaccinated.

“Also, no country has announced a mandate to be vaccinated for travel to their country either and this won’t happen until the majority of countries are materially able to comply. Perhaps we may see some changes in 2H2021, but we are still very far from it.”

Jane Sim, commodity manager ASEAN, Siemens, added approval was still restricted to essential travel, while domestic trips were taking place for projects in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Sim noted: “Airline schedules continue to change based on market conditions and since 2020 we have had to explore other transport options. If there are cost and time savings, my colleagues in China are moving to replace air with high-speed rail.”

A Shanghai-based buyer in charge of the global travel programme at a European retail giant, added: “For the first time in 2020, ground transportation – car rentals and rail – more than doubled compared to air, even though domestic lift steadily climbed back to around 50 per cent of pre-Covid between June and November last year.”

With duty of care being paramount last year, he said the company put aside cost savings to help stranded employees and their families repatriate and some times paid as much as four times for air tickets.

With overall travel demand depressed, the company managed to stay within budget, was watchful of ticket prices and cut the number of partners for its hotel programme in 2020 by 20 per cent, he added.

For 2021, Sim said Siemens had increased the cost savings target by two per cent because business recovery was patchy and business targets remained conservative.

Meanwhile, a regional travel manager in the pharmaceuticals sector shared it was foregoing rebates to ensure vendor teams providing services were not affected and that Covid-19 protocol standards implemented, some of which are hard to audit, are maintained.

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