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Defining Essential Business Travel During COVID-19

Defining essential business travel

5 min
Posted: 19 October 2020
Business Traveler Prepares For Essential Business Travel

When Thomas Cook arranged what is believed to be the first publicly advertised rail excursion in 18411 he likely didn’t view himself as the father of non-essential travel. While Cook’s packaged tourism catered to an audience far different from today’s business travelers, the concept of travel by choice is, in some ways, a consideration more relevant now than ever.

Travel has long been an important business tool that drives commerce and connects economies. The Roman Empire brought trade, and thus travel, across the East and West eons ago. But it was generally wealthy merchants, not their staff, wandering the earth with huge steamer trunks to carry their wares.

Thankfully, both luggage and modes of transport have changed dramatically. The rapid growth of airlines beginning in the 1920s made travel faster — thanks to wings versus sails — and multitudes of innovations in the decades since made it more accessible.

Business travel is now a leveler, allowing organizations in every industry to more easily access and compete in larger marketplaces. It’s likely, pre-pandemic, the words business trip would not have raised so much as an eyebrow for most people. The unique challenges of today have changed that.

I suspect most business travelers have their own story about an essential trip that was actually a boring and non-essential hour-long meeting. But what about now? The realities of COVID-19  and associated public health concerns forced companies to re-evaluate travel policies, to clearly define approvals and eliminate ambiguity about compliance. Some employers are limiting or prohibiting non-essential business travel.  But, what does that mean?

Here are four things to consider when creating your travel program’s new definition of essential business travel.

Understand the terrain

Countries and regions continue to implement and then lift border closures, alternately restricting and opening entry. While essential workers such as first responders or construction and transport professionals whose trips are deemed non-optional are generally free to move around even during strict lockdowns, most travelers are not. As travel restrictions begin to ease and more individuals are allowed to travel freely, applying government guidance on travel to your travel program and policies can be complicated.

Some states are now requiring non-essential travelers from other select states to self-quarantine upon arrival. This type of mandate may make business travel to certain locations impractical. Similarly, the definition of essential may vary by state or country. You should check the relevant requirements to ensure whatever work your employee will be doing is considered essential at that location.

For these reasons, current entry and exit restrictions, mandates for self-quarantine and other requirements are important considerations for your travel policies. Use the Egencia® Travel Advisor to quickly and easily access actionable insights you can use to help create your definition of permissible travel and inform adjustments to your policies on a temporary or longer-term basis.

Define optional

A single source of trusted advisory information is imperative for getting back to traveling and successfully navigating the changed, more complex global travel environment. But even with access to trusted information and advisories, the provision of PPE and other measures to support traveler wellbeing, some travelers may be second-guessing domestic and international travel. They personally may be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or live with someone who is because of age, medical condition or disability. Making travel optional, requiring advance bookings and approvals, and taking steps such as training employees about their understanding of optional travel can help you to support your travelers’ wellbeing while at the same time reduce business risk.

Eliminate approval burdens

Companies need control and predictability — control on how and when their employees travel to any destination and predictability on the management of risk related to their employees’ travel experiences.

Employees whose duties are critical to infrastructure or business continuity are more likely to fall within a category of essential travel during times of extreme restrictions. Those more easily defined as knowledge workers may not be.

Clearly defining permissible travel allows for faster, more effective program management by removing the burdens associated with determining the level of urgency or potential ROI from your approvers. Egencia empowers you to self-serve travel policy and high-risk destination configuration to reduce travel risks as much as possible. Set corporate travel policy rules for all travel categories in one centralized space and instantly apply changes to your travel and approval policies across every booking channel.

Be more flexible 

According to a GBTA poll,2 62% of organizations said they've modified their travel safety and security policies and 55% indicated they have new trip approval procedures. Once you’ve determined your parameters for permissible travel it may be wise to build in more flexibility in your policies and approval processes. Doing this can help to increase your travelers’ confidence in their wellbeing.

For example, a traveler might feel they are better cared for on their trip if given the option to select an airline that is limiting passenger capacity or blocking middle seats. Or they may prefer staying in a hotel that requires proper face masks and social distancing in public areas. Forcing an employee to base their booking choices on cost alone could result in business risks if the employee is exposed to COVID-19.

Egencia allows you to easily set multiple policies for different traveler groups or cost centers. And you can use approvals to ensure all business trips are properly reviewed before booking or departure.

Next steps

Chances are your business travel program looks a lot different now than it did before. The role of the travel manager has become a business-critical role, focused on reducing risk. Travel managers, in partnership with executive leaders who have responsibility for employee safety and wellbeing should be creating systematic ways for their companies to reduce risk by defining new guidelines for corporate travel.

Defining essential, permissible travel is a critical component in your new guidelines. Find out more about other best practices for your program’s return to travel and the Egencia solutions to help you support your travelers while also increasing predictability and control in your travel program.

1 Leicester – the birthplace of popular tourism,

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