With most economies in the world now open and people are learning to live with Covid-19, work-related trips have rebounded, but staying flexible in today’s ever-evolving travel climate is crucial for TMCs such as CWT.
“The travel situation is still unpredictable. You have to be flexible in how you deal with it because there’s no linear progression (to how corporate travel will rebound). If something happens next week, regulations could change,” CWT’s chief traveller experience officer, Derek Sharp, told TTGmice.
Pre-pandemic, TMCs had to deal with clients falling sick during a work trip or being injured, flight changes, and the occasional natural disaster evacuation.
“But now, it’s down to – what if clients can’t get into the country they need to; what if the schedule changes, and what is the ripple effect of that in terms of approval,” Sharp said, adding that the level of uncertainty is high today and corporate travel managers must be able to respond in real-time.
Moreover, with airlines not flying at full capacity yet, rebooking the next available longhaul flight, for example, could potentially be a long wait.
While duty of care was already important prior to the pandemic, it is now “omnipresent”, Sharp said.
To better provide for their customers, CWT partners with global health and security firms like International SOS.
“Such partners go a long way with our big corporate clients, as these companies want to make sure we’re providing continuity across our duty of care solution globally,” he said.
Uncertainties today underscore the importance of TMCs, he opined.
“The value of a TMC has been magnified with the pandemic. Flight changes, hotel changes, car changes, how business travellers manage their expenses – any company that has complex itineraries will find TMCs very valuable,” he remarked.
Meanwhile, Sharp has expressed confidence in the future of business travel, even as China – the region’s largest corporate travel market – remains shut to the world.
“There is huge pent-up demand in China for international corporate travel, meetings and events,” he said, adding that the strong desire for travel was evident in the rapid return to domestic travel as soon as local restrictions were lifted.
Strong pent-up demand has also resulted in quick business travel recovery elsewhere around the world. In Singapore, for example, outbound bookings are up five-fold for CWT, compared to the beginning of this year, while inbound bookings have tripled. This swift return came on the back of testing and quarantine removal.
“While some reports suggest travel will recover to 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by end-2022, my more conservative view expects the industry to be back at 70 to 75 per cent of 2019 levels this year,” he said.