Optimism is growing for a return to business travel.
79% of Travel Managers and GBTA members say they would be “very comfortable” or “comfortable” traveling after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. 55% of Travel Managers say business travelers are “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business, up from 49% at the start of 2021.
To help you lead the restart of business travel for your organization, here are 7 key steps to consider.
1. Defining Permissible Travel
Some organizations have advised travelers that only “essential” travel can take place at this time. But what is essential travel? There isn’t a consistent answer, and that drives confusion.
Smart organizations have implemented a clearer definition of acceptable business travel. One way of doing this is to use Permissible Travel as defined by the experts at FESTIVE ROAD. Their Permissible Travel Framework has been used (and contributed to) by hundreds of Travel Managers and suggests that pandemic-era travel is:
Company Confidence x Traveler Confidence x Government Permission = Permissible Travel
Next Step: The first critical step in the restart of travel is to work with your colleagues and stakeholders (such as Legal, HR, IT, Risk, Security, Procurement, C-suite) to define what Permissible Travel looks like for your organization. Key questions to help with this are included in the free-to-access Permissible Travel Framework. Company Confidence is what travel is company permissible. This covers what type of travel is allowed, where to and how this is done to mitigate business risk. Traveler Confidence is what is the employee willing to do. Government Permission is what travel is allowed by the governments, including consideration of destinations through which any trip takes place.
2. Clarifying the Value of Business Travel
Has your company travel budget been slashed? Will “virtual-first” be the default for meetings in the foreseeable future? If this is you, what if you could highlight the value every dollar spent on travel creates in terms of business outcomes?
A study by Harvard Business Review may help. 81% of surveyed business leaders said that business travel generates “greater empathy toward customers and coworkers”. This drives intangible benefits such as increased collaboration, stronger innovation and better customer relationships. The HBR study also found striking measurable benefits, where organizations that manage travel as a strategic enabler (versus a cost to be minimized) see:
- 2.4x stronger customer loyalty
- 2.2x better speed to market
- 2.0x higher market share
- 1.6x better profitability and new product/service introduction capabilities
Next Step: As you engage with your colleagues and travelers, ask what business outcomes different types of travel create for your organization. Try to define what types of travel need to be retained versus what can go “virtual-first”.
3. Travel Policy Update
It’s time to update the travel policy and make sure it clarifies:
- What types are travel are allowed, when, where and by who?
- Have travel approval and booking processes been implemented (or changed), if so, how?
- What resources are provided to help both travelers and approvers determine if a trip can proceed, for example using Egencia® Travel Advisor to check origin/destination specific travel restrictions?
- Are there company procedures to follow pre/on/post trip, for example, pre-trip negative PCR tests or mandatory self-quarantine upon return?
Next Step: Review and implement your travel policy updates with your Egencia account manager. We will help you to ensure your travelers are informed about your policy, whether they book online, offline or via mobile, with Egencia. Bear in mind that due to the dynamic nature of the pandemic, (for example, rapidly changing government permissions) it's important to consider your travel policy a living document and keep it regularly updated.
4. Travel Approval
Pre-trip approval is becoming the norm in pandemic-era travel with 55% of companies launching approval processes. This allows the traveler and approver to make trip-specific risk/benefit assessments before anything is booked.
The approval process should mirror your travel policy and organization’s permissible travel framework.
Next Step: Work out the key criteria to be used within your approval process, for example origin/destination information, reason for travel, cost, business benefit of the trip, etc. Apply Egencia setting options to configure unique policies to meet the needs of your traveler groups or cost centers. This type of flexibility helps you ensure the right policy applies to the right traveler for each trip.
5. Traveler Communications
Even experienced “road-warriors” may be unsure how to travel in the pandemic-era. Do they need a pre-trip COVID test? What social distancing measures are in place along their journey? How has the airport and flight experience changed?
Travelers have a multitude of new questions about travel. The more information and support you can provide; the more willing travelers will be to get moving again.
Next Step: If you haven’t already carried out a traveler listening exercise, now is the time. Survey or interview a group of travelers to learn about their questions with travel in the context of your travel program. Example questions are below, and more are available in the Permissible Travel Framework.
- Would you be comfortable to travel again?
- What, if anything, would prevent you from traveling?
- Do you believe that travel is critical to your job? If so how?
- How has not being able to travel affected your work?
- Do you anticipate any additional needs or support required pre/on/post trip?
- If you have travelled since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, did you feel safe during your trip?
- How can the organization best communicate with you regarding travel?
Once you’ve identified “what” you need to communicate, think through “how” and “when”. For example, push notifications may be needed with dynamic information (such as last-minute flight schedule changes), or to manage emergency situations. It’s helpful to consider ways you can streamline communications when you and your travelers need them most. The company intranet can house guidance documents and checklists. You can use Egencia Traveler Tracker to send emails or emergency push notifications directly to travelers whose trips may be impacted by an unexpected event.
6. New Standards > New Suppliers?
Travel suppliers are adopting new standards in order to maintain support. Two key themes are developing:
- New health and hygiene protocols, for example, the need to wear face masks on-trip
- More flexible commercial polices, to handle booking changes, credits and refunds
Some of these standards may be government controlled, but most vary by supplier. Travel Managers are typically looking to focus their support to suppliers with stringent hygiene protocols and flexible commercial policies.
Next Step: Certain hygiene and commercial policy components can be filtered within the more progressive travel booking tools. For example, allowing booking only where the ticket can be changed or refunded. Egencia will support you to focus the choice of suppliers to those that make most sense for your organization.
7. Coming soon: Testing and Vaccine Data
Requirements for trip related COVID tests or vaccinations are changing rapidly.
It's important to chat with HR, IT and legal teams about the potential need to capture testing and vaccine data. Does the company support this? How will this data be stored and secured? Will the company require its travelers to have had a COVID-19 test or vaccine?
Next Step: Stay up-to-date on this topic. Testing and vaccines look to be the most likely catalyst to a return to travel at scale, but will vary by market and supplier. Use Egencia Travel Advisor for on-demand access to current information about COVID testing and other requirements for your travelers’ destinations. And, here’s our Q&A with the medical director of International SOS and founder of World Aware as we discussed how vaccines will play out for business travel management.
Want to learn more?
Complete the form to download the whitepaper on restarting permissible travel.
 GBTA Poll: Vaccine a Game-Changer for a Return to Travel, GBTA, February 18, 2021
Travel Culture: Your Innovation and Growth Advantage, Harvard Business Review, 2019