As business travel came to a standstill in early 2020, scores of road warriors stashed their well-used suitcases in closets and tucked away their passports for the time being. While the level of readiness to return to business travel varies throughout the world, businesses and their employees are now thinking about what the “new normal” will look like once they receive the green light to hit the road again
New research fielded by SAP Concur in May-June 2020 looks into business travellers’ concerns and expectations post-Covid-19. While the data suggests travel will continue to play an irreplaceable role in meeting critical business demands, it also shows that health and safety are top-of-mind among employees. The survey reveals that ensuring their health and safety while traveling is most important to business travellers, with 65 percent placing it in their top three considerations. Top concerns about returning to business travel also include infecting their families (55 per cent) and getting sick themselves (53 per cent).
These concerns could be contributing to employees’ stress during the trip. Forty-five per cent of business travellers said they find the actual trip the most stressful stage, a 50 per cent increase from last year. Twenty-six per cent find pre-trip activities such as planning, booking and organizing their trip to be the most stressful, while 29 per cent find post-trip activities such as filing expense reports and monitoring their health after returning home to be the most stressful. Additionally, business travellers hold themselves most accountable to protect their health and safety once travel starts again (36 per cent). However, they also are looking to their employer to protect their health and safety (18 per cent).
This leads to the question – Are travel managers prepared to meet business travellers’ expectations in light of the fluid state of business and travel during these unprecedented times? The SAP Concur survey found that among travel manager respondents, 96 per cent reported that their company was not fully prepared to manage evolving travel demands during the outbreak. What were the biggest pain points experienced?
- Handling the volume of cancelled reservations (44 per cent)
- Processing the volume of refunds, receipts, and unused tickets (43 per cent)
- Determining if it is safe to travel in absence of government guidelines (40 per cent)
As business travel resumes, travel managers could face similar challenges on top of meeting employees’ expectations to ensure they feel protected and safe. If companies don’t adapt, 65 per cent of business travellers say they intend to take some degree of action, such as asking to limit or reduce travel in their current position (45 per cent), searching for a new position within their company that does not require travel (10 per cent), or searching for a position at a different company (eight per cent). Considering this, here are a few tips that can help travel managers meet business travellers’ expectations to keep them healthy and safe:
Update travel policies: Travel managers should look at their current travel policy and make updates to fit the current situation. One important guideline to update is what the company will consider essential travel. They should work with human resources and their business leaders to determine which business functions need to be conducted in person and which ones can be done online. Thirty-nine percent of business travellers say they consider limiting business travel to only the most business-critical trips as vital for their company to implement when travel resumes. Not only will it help minimize employees’ exposure, it can also make a difference in the company’s bottom line.
Consult the experts: National health organisations and hospitals offer free information for businesses and consumers who need to travel. Travel managers should stay up-to-date on the latest guidance and ensure employees know about these resources. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a Travel resources page with helpful information on traveling within the country and internationally. The Mayo Clinic also has a web page with Covid-19 travel advice. TripIt from Concur offers a helpful Travellers Resource Centre that gathers a collection of resources to make finding information about public health, safety advisories, and travel guidelines easy.
Health checks and personal protective equipment (PPE): Travel managers should look into ways they can implement mandatory personal health screenings before and after travel for employees. In fact, 39 per cent of business travellers believe this is an important measure companies should take. This can help ease business travellers’ concerns about infecting others and being infected themselves in the course of travel. In addition, 33 per cent of business travellers want easier access to PPEs like gloves or facemasks and expect their company to provide them with this equipment.
Implement technology that gives insight into employees’ travel plans: It’s vital for travel managers to know where employees are during business trips so they can communicate with them should an incident occur. An integrated technology solution that provides up-to-date business traveller data and the ability to reach out to employees in the event of an emergency offers peace of mind to both the business traveller and the travel manager.
While these tips won’t fully solve for all business travel challenges, they can help alleviate some of the concerns employees have when it comes to returning to travel and help businesses adapt, stabilise, and re-imagine business travel in the new normal.