Optimism is growing for a return to business travel.
Seventy-nine percent of Travel Managers and GBTA members say that they would be ‘very comfortable’ or ‘comfortable’ travelling after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Fifty-five percent of Travel Managers say that business travellers are ‘willing’ or ‘very willing’ to travel for business, up from 49 percent at the start of 2021.
To help you lead the restart of business travel for your organisation, here are seven key steps to consider.
1. Defining permissible travel
Some organisations have advised travellers 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 organisations 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 Traveller Confidence x Government Permission = Permissible Travel
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. Traveller Confidence is what the employee is willing to do. Government Permission is what travel is allowed by the governments, including consideration of destinations through which any trip takes place.
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 organisation. Key questions to help with this are included in the free-to-access Permissible Travel Framework.
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 created from every pound spent on travel, in terms of business outcomes?
A study by Harvard Business Review may help. Eighty-one percent of surveyed business leaders said that business travel generates ‘greater empathy towards customers and co-workers’. This drives intangible benefits, such as increased collaboration, stronger innovation and better customer relationships. The HBR study also found striking measurable benefits, where organisations that manage travel as a strategic enabler (as opposed to a cost to be minimised) 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 travellers, ask what business outcomes do different types of travel create for your organisation. 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), and, if so, how?
- What resources are provided to help both travellers and approvers determine if a trip can proceed, using, for example, 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 that your travellers 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 as a living document, and keep it regularly updated.
4. Travel approval
Pre-trip approval is becoming the norm in pandemic-era travel with 55 percent of companies launching approval processes. This allows the traveller and approver to make trip-specific risk/benefit assessments before anything is booked.
The approval process should mirror your travel policy and organisation’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 traveller groups or cost centres. This type of flexibility helps you to ensure that the right policy applies to the right traveller for each trip.
5. Traveller communications
Even experienced ‘road warriors’ may be unsure of 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?
Travellers have a multitude of new questions about travel. The more information and support that you can provide, the more willing travellers will be to get moving again.
Next step: If you haven’t already carried out a traveller-listening exercise, now is the time. Survey or interview a group of travellers to learn about their questions about travel in the context of your travel programme. 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 travelling?
- 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 organisation best communicate with you regarding travel?
6. New standards > new suppliers?
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 that you can streamline communications when you and your travellers need them most. The company intranet can house guidance documents and checklists. You can use Egencia Traveller Tracker to send emails or emergency push notifications directly to travellers whose trips may be impacted by an unexpected event.
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 the 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 organisation.
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 travellers to have had a COVID-19 test or vaccine?
Technology is emerging to enable travellers to store test and vaccine information on their mobile device. Examples are IATA Travel Pass and CommonPass, both are already in trial with various airlines.
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 travellers’ destinations. And, here’s our Q&A with the medical director of International SOS and founder of WorldAware, where 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, 18 February, 2021
 Travel culture: Your Innovation and Growth Advantage, Harvard Business Review, 2019