Business travelers, reflecting concerns about the impact on companies and careers, want to return to the skies, road, rails, and hotels to meet clients and colleagues in person.
Our recent 2021 Global Business Traveler and Global Travel Manager reports, in fact, found that virtually all those surveyed desired to travel again, with nearly two-thirds “very willing.” Budgets are expected to rise nearly all around but not to pre-pandemic levels, meaning more employees may be willing to go than budgets allow.
Interestingly, more than 2 in 3 travelers say they are driving the return to the road instead of their companies, some of which are leaving it to employees to decide when to travel again based on their comfort levels.
As top management resumes traveling, they can serve as valuable role models as to how to safely do so, such as promoting their own vaccinations and showing they are properly assessing the need for travel and the risks involved. Staying informed about pandemic-related restrictions and requirements is vital, as is the realization that what one will encounter at airports has changed, requiring understanding and patience.
Dr. Ian Norton, a former WHO staffer and founder and managing director at Respond Global, shared his thoughts on company best practices. “I see differences in those who are forward leaning, particularly in the way they message,” he said. “Those who have embraced real-time information for their travelers are doing it best of all. Those who have a culture of openness and listening are doing best of all.”
Recently, Dr. Norton and three other experts weighed in on some of the survey topics during a session at the SAP Concur Travel Industry Summit 2021. Watch the session here.
Flexibility: 72% value it most
Being able to choose how they fly and where they stay is a top priority of more than 7 in 10 travelers. Just over half expect to have the freedom to book direct flights.
Travelers’ desire for flexibility could conflict with what their organizations are doing, as only 40% of travel managers report they are likely to increase flexibility in booking and other matters.
68% oppose return to pre-COVID policies
Travelers know organizations’ polices will change, as shown by nearly 7 in 10 not wanting policies to return to the way they were.
Travel managers know their travelers expect organizations to put systems and technology in place to provide the latest travel updates and warnings while they are making their way to destinations or are on the ground. To help with this, travel managers need to create well-established feedback channels so employees can share if things changed or didn’t go as expected during their trip. Employees should be able to easily report back if expected COVID-19 related restrictions or mandates were not enforced. Information, communication, and access are key for safety, flexibility, and sustainability.
“Travelers want and need to travel for business, but they want to do it both safely and responsibly,” said Ann Kloepfer, a senior travel manager for Microsoft. “They’re expecting us to provide tools that give them better insight into more responsible choices.”
About 40% travelers say they – even more than their companies – are most responsible for their health and safety during trips. But they’re also watching how their employers respond. Just over half say they’d make changes if their organization doesn’t take necessary safety measures, with 1 in 5 saying they would look for a different job.
Travel managers know the stakes and say one of the top new measures they’ll take is to deliver real-time updates and alerts. Nearly all of the 700 travel managers surveyed expect to confront challenges in the next year, with the top one being informing travelers about new policies and ensuring they comply. So, again, information is key.
“Any type of restrictions and requirements need to be very accessible and easily understood by both the traveler manager and the traveler,” Kloepfer said. If a client has restrictions, travel managers “need to be able to prompt the traveler to obtain that information.”
Pent-up demand: 89% hope to tack on vacation time
It’s not just business travel resuming. Leisure travel is revving up, with flyers filling planes and airlines adding flights. Business travelers indicate they and their families hope to get away from home, with 9 in 10 planning to add personal time to business trips.
Resuming travel requires flexibility, patience, and understanding. Rental cars are in short supply or unavailable in some locations. TSA staffing is ramping up, but security lines will be long. Promised contactless interactions might prove not to be. Airport food vendors and coffee shops are short of employees. Travelers might not get a meal or a drink on the plane these days.
“We are already seeing TSA reporting more than 2 million people traveling per day again, which is just mind-blowing. … If you are planning on adding more time on to a business trip … you need to book things well in advance,” said Natalie Compton, a reporter and columnist with The Washington Post.
Adjusting expectations is essential as we hesitantly but excitedly travel again and commit to expect the unexpected. A sense of grace and perspective will go a long way, especially for those of us fortunate to live in countries with widespread vaccinations and dropping COVID-19 rates.
Travel may seem awkward or even strange after such a long break, but don’t let that keep you from embracing the joy of traveling again.
See what Ami Taylor, SAP Concur; Ann Kloepfer, Microsoft; Dr. Ian Norton, Respond Global; and Natalie Compton, Washington Post, say about data from the 2021 SAP Concur travel reports and the return to business travel, in a session from the SAP Concur Travel Industry Summit. HERE.
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