Corporate Travel Rebound Slow, But Steady

In the third stage of the combined multinational ‘State of the Market’ survey by global TMC, FCM Travel Solutions, and SME-specialist business travel provider Corporate Traveller it was revealed that 50% of organizations have begun travelling again, but with stipulations.

Conducted by FCM’s consulting arm 4th Dimension (4D), the third stage of the survey consisted of one-to-one in-depth interviews in August 2020 with 250 of FCM’s multi-national large-scale clients and Corporate Traveller’s SME customers globally, representing over 60 countries where both TMCs manage their travel.

The workshops examined a new path forward for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, as corporate travel resumes amid new safety and hygiene requirements and protocols.

It follows on from the results of two State of the Market surveys released in May and June, both conducted by 4D among 2,320 business travel managers, bookers and travellers in EMEA, Asia, the Americas, India, Australia and New Zealand, to gauge their sentiments on business travel during the COVID-19 crisis.

While 50% of respondents said they have employees already travelling or booking reservations to travel in the near future, resuming travel will be different for everyone.

The combined results of the State of the Market research (April to August 2020) shows that over 90% of businesses indicated that they planned to travel domestically and short haul international flights, within three months of governments re-opening borders and lifting restrictions such as quarantine.

Yet the number of trips taken will likely be lower, as only 26% of businesses are planning to return to their pre-COVID-19 levels for domestic travel during 2021.

The remaining 74% of businesses predict reduced domestic travel for the immediate year ahead. Pre-COVID the average number of business trips per traveler was 6 to 8 per year; this number is likely to fall between 3 and 4 trips per person, per year until 2023.

Clients still have long-haul travel plans on hold indefinitely, as they assess the balance between need and safety.

In particular, national businesses in USA, Australia, China and New Zealand were less likely to have long-haul international plans for 2021, indicating only domestic and short-haul international travel will be planned for next year. 29% of respondents from China said they won’t be travelling long haul, while 22% of respondents in New Zealand, 16% in Australia and 7% in the USA indicated the same.

A snapshot of professionals currently travelling indicates that:

  • Industries who continued to travel or recommenced travel the fastest were Mining & Wholesale, with roughly 40% of respondents from those businesses saying they continued traveling throughout the global shutdown. 80% have resumed travel at this point.
  • Construction and food services follow closely behind with roughly 70% of respondents indicated that they’ve started travelling again.
  • Across all industries, the first people to travel will be/have been sales, client management and project workforce who are focused on business growth, customer retention and the resumption of projects. 19% of respondents agree that the least likely to travel in the near future were administration and internal support staff as they are not client facing.

Charlene Leiss, president of Flight Centre Travel Group, Americas, FCM and Corporate Traveller’s parent company, observed that: “As travel restrictions are lifted and we all resume our lives in ‘the new normal,’ it’s important that we establish a path forward as a business and as an industry.”

Leiss continued: “Understanding how businesses are moving forward with their travel programs, what factors have the biggest impacts on their policies, how they’re adjusting their policies, and what is influencing their behaviour, will us to understand how to best serve them.”

To that end, Leiss and her team remain cognizant of the fact that triggers for business travel include travelling when safe (vaccine or virus eradicated), borders reopening, traveller confidence increasing and the ability to appropriately track travellers.

Moreover, the study revealed that the future of travel buying behaviour will be influenced by:

  • Airline, hotel, car/ground COVID-safety protocols (37% of respondents are reviewing their hotel suppliers to ensure they are COVID-safe and 25% of respondents rate Duty of Care their number one focus as travel resumes in their business)
  • Shortened purchase window (the average purchase window for domestic travel has dropped from 7-10 days (pre-COVID) to 3-4 days post-COVID)
  • Flexible fares
  • Avoidance of overnight requirements
  • Virtual meetings as a back-up

In addition to focusing on budgets, traveller confidence and safety procedures, businesses large and small are re-evaluating their travel policies in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, more than ever before, a travel policy ensures businesses have set guidelines around traveller safety, budgets, required documentation and purpose for travel, while empowering employees to use careful judgement when booking and incurring travels expenses. 84% of businesses interviewed have active travel policies, either at a national or global level.

During COVID-19, 40% of respondents who had existing policies introduced interim travel policies, providing more restrictive guidelines for travellers.

Interim policies include varying definitions of indefinite travel bans, classifications for business-critical travel (where safe), new approval procedures, general guidelines for changed supplier services and procedures for business meetings. 50% of customers are making further changes to their policy as travel resumes. Priorities of revised policies include:

  • Health & Hygiene
  • Pre-trip approval
  • Business Class travel approval
  • Whether the business is essential
  • Journey Changes
  • Adhering to COVID Conduct
  • Using preferred and COVID safe suppliers

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