Depending on where the benchmark is set, recovery predictions are difficult to estimate. Region, domestic vs international travel and transport modes all have their own road to recovery. But restoring traveller confidence is critical to each.
85% of companies cancelled most travel during the pandemic but their travellers are now itching to get back onto trains, planes and automobiles. While the volumes and percentages of office-based workers and business travel volumes remains to be observed; the anticipated, steady return will be fuelled by a multitude of factors. But one thing is for sure, lockdown has changed travellers’ needs and we as TMCs must respond.
At Capita Travel and Events, we’re busy helping our clients take that step by re-evaluating their travel policies during very challenging times. We are helping them to implement robust traveller engagement programmes, balance the need to travel with connectivity and provide the enabling technology for a vibrant balance of technology and safe, in-person connections.
Cost, risk and change management
The pandemic has hastened the pre-existing trend to retool corporate travel programmes, bringing traveller wellbeing to the fore. As restrictions began to be lifted in 2020 following lockdown 1.0, many travellers were worried about social distancing and cleanliness amongst transport providers and hotels. Half of them regard Covid-19 safety certification by transport and accommodation providers as essential to restoring confidence in travel. Despite the boost to confidence from a roaring UK vaccine programme, these 2020 concerns offer some guidance to the concerns that travellers still hold – and that still need to be accommodated.
Travel managers will ensure their programmes engender traveller confidence by highlighting Covid-secure providers within up-graded Duty of Care policies that protect employees whilst travelling on business. TMCs have a central role to play here by ensuring best practice in programme management and in traveller engagement.
The pandemic has also focussed corporate minds on cost, risk and change management, in turn bringing greater emphasis on compliance within travel programmes. Every trip and every cost element will now come under scrutiny like never before, making TMC expertise in travel management a must-have.
Mandating booking within managed channels is critical. Compliance optimises Duty of Care, so employers are less likely to allow travellers to book non-preferred suppliers, or airfares and hotel rates with restrictive terms and conditions. 66% of companies are less likely to allow travellers to book directly with suppliers than they were pre-lockdown and that 59% of travellers are now more likely than ever to book at the last minute.
Strengthening the rules
As part of a gradual return to travel, some companies are strengthening their rules around pre-trip approvals, ramping up pre-trip communications in particular. Nearly a quarter are collecting health information from their travellers, focussing on potential virus exposure or pre-existing conditions.  If your organisation isn’t already doing so, we recommend that you do.
Until some semblance of normality is restored, travellers may be faced with the prospect of changing schedules, cancelled air tickets and credits, so providing on-demand support to travellers will be critical. That’s why It’s never been more important to provide travellers with the support they need to guide them through.
Blending virtual with in-person connections
Video conferencing usage has doubled  since the March 2020 lockdown, which may explain why 44% of business travellers say they are missing in-person meetings most of all.
Although the pandemic has driven adoption of digital, the value of in-person connections has not been diminished by Covid-19 – providing the incremental productivity, enhanced business relationships and employee wellbeing justify the financial and health risks. Remote working is not a panacea. Childcare issues, inadequate office space and maintaining mental health have been the greatest challenges faced by remote workers. 
Re-booted corporate travel and meeting programmes are blending virtual with face-to-face, enabling stakeholders to select the most appropriate medium based on both financial and human impacts. Going forward, programmes will have to provide workers with the tools to attend trade fairs and interact with others virtually, by working with suitably qualified travel and meetings management specialists like us.
We have seen an upsurge in meetings management programmes since restrictions first began to be lifted, meaning we’re helping clients to understand how their stakeholders connect with their customers, employees and suppliers - and then converting those insights into actionable policies.
The key to successfully incorporating digital into any meetings programme lies in understanding what works, why, and the benefits of connecting in the right way.
Travel as a privilege
Travel management in 2020 was transformed by the need to enable the right people to travel safely if a trip cannot be avoided. Safety aspect of that transformation will remain, with safe travel protocols are as - if not more - important as RFPs. Ensuring travellers’ mental and physical wellbeing now requires employers to walk the walk. But the will to undertake effective and valuable travel is growing as confidence returns.
This approach is central to our Smarter working initiative because business travel is about far more than getting employees from point A to point B. Travel programmes should meet organisational objectives such as productivity, connectivity, health and wellbeing, as well as delivering cost reduction.
The scale of recovery will vary from sector to sector and domestic to international. But in a recent corporate world where the primary directive has been survival, the impact of travel avoidance on the bottom line has be crucial. The importance of travel for in-person connections on growth, savings and productivity will be critical to the return of effective travel and our expertise and services to equip organsiations to connect safely and in the most effective way are crucial to that.
If you'd like to hear more about how we're helping organsiations prepare for a return to travel, get in touch.