The outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic brought about a complete travel ban, with international travel coming to a grinding halt as borders were temporarily closed, and the local tourism industry took an immediate knock. Local companies that rely on employees to travel between offices, regions or countries were also faced with a challenge and undoubtedly felt the travel restrictions cramping their operations.
However, now that air-travel is once again permitted, will companies continue to travel regionally and internationally as they did in the pre-COVID environment? According to hospitality experts, it is estimated that there will be a permanent reduction of 10 to 15 percent in business travel over the medium- to longer-term.
Even now, as restrictions are lifted and with the promise of a COVID-19 vaccination rollout on the horizon, business travel has become significantly more complicated. Not only are there still various limitations on where people are allowed to travel to, but there are additional safety requirement and COVID-19 testing to ensure that travelling employees don’t pose additional risks to your company upon returning.
On the upside, many businesses have discovered that it is indeed possible to get a lot done, and often at a much lower cost, via teleconferencing and remote meetings than was previously believed.
It is true that the inability to travel had an initial impact on businesses operating in various locations due to the abrupt changes brought on by the pandemic. Yet, the swift move to online platforms (which was arguably inevitable) made the transition from physical to online doable. In this way, many businesses were able to leverage the opportunity presented by the new work model and, moreover, by being agile in their response, were able to resolve any challenges posed by having multiple businesses spread over various locations in a world where travel is limited.
This begs the question: are all of those business trips where employees travel just because “it’s the way it’s always been done”, really necessary? Or is a new approach to business travel required? While there are no doubt businesses that will choose to resume old ways, it is likely that many more will continue to leverage technology and its cost cutting benefits to cancel the bulk of their business travel.
The fact is that not only is it possible to move to a more remote way of conducting business, but it may indeed become the new normal in a post-COVID economy. The question of how important it is to have company executives physically present to deliver presentations during meetings and while brokering deals is a bit more complicated to answer. It comes down to the varying needs of different business models and specific projects – so while there is a general shift towards a reduced need for physical meet-ups on a regular basis, it is still highly unlikely that business travel will die out completely.
As for the future of business travel, it cannot be denied that most companies that survived the events of the past year, have been able to channel their travel budget into other, more pressing business needs and this has likely contributed to their survival. Travel budgets have thus decreased and considering the fact that arranging travel will become more expensive and cumbersome for every employee, due to factors such as testing – companies are likely to significantly reduce their spend on travel in the medium-term even as borders open up.