COVID-19 has changed a lot of things – including the way that companies and employees approach business travel. Just over a year since COVID-19 made its presence known in South Africa, it would seem as though some of these changes are fleeting, while others are here to stay.
Oz Desai, GM Corporate Traveller, has a look at what changes are likely to remain in a post-COVID world – and how companies can adapt accordingly.
Heightened safety protocols
It is unlikely that anybody will ever travel the same way again, at least from a health and safety perspective. Due to the unavoidable close quarters within an aeroplane, it is likely that passengers will continue to opt to wear face masks long into the future, even once it’s no longer mandatory.
“Airlines will continue to prioritise biosafety,” says Desai. “As such, stringent disinfection procedures are sure to remain commonplace when preparing an aircraft for departure, as well as shortly after arrival, and there will almost certainly be access to hand sanitiser on board at all high-touch points for the foreseeable future.”
Touchless technology – often referred to as ‘contactless’ or ‘contact-free’ technology – is playing a significant role in helping to restore traveller confidence. This technology includes biometric boarding, contactless check-in, contactless lifts, and digital check-in at hotels. The focus is to reduce a traveller’s risk of physically coming into contact with pathogens, and many of these technologies also strive to automate the passenger journey as much as possible.
Along with optimising safety, these technologies maximise convenience, too. Companies are encouraged to join forces with a TMC if they are uncertain of how to fully embrace these available, ever-advancing technologies for the benefit of their employees, advises Desai.
Hybrid meetings refer to meetings that are made up of ‘audience’ members in an office environment in combination with ‘audience’ members who are joining from a remote location through video or audio-conferencing technology.
According to recent research, approximately 1 in every 4 meetings nowadays can be classified as a hybrid meeting. This relatively new approach to corporate communication is popular right now as it works to facilitate social distancing. It also reduces the need for frequent business travel, which is great news for organisations striving to promote only business travel which can be deemed ‘essential’.
Reliance on TMCs
Travel Management Companies (TMCs) are fulfilling a critical role when it comes to navigating the complexities of travel at the moment, as well as mitigating risk for companies far and wide as they prioritise duty of care.
A TMC does more than simply vet all travel service providers. It also evaluates any potential risks incurred by business travellers, alerts business travellers to these risks before and during the trip, and actively liaises with local consulates and embassies for a safe and streamlined journey. Furthermore, TMCs are equipped to assist companies in adapting their travel policies based on COVID-19 risks and restrictions, in embracing the various travel-related health and safety technologies available, as well as in saving time and money.
Flexible booking solutions
With so much up in the air during these uncertain times, numerous organisations may feel hesitant to book business trips in advance for fear of losing money in the process. This has led to the majority of travel suppliers to adopt more flexible booking policies and solutions. It is now easier to make a booking and to postpone or cancel that booking should a COVID-related event or problem get in the way ahead of an employee’s departure. As COVID is likely to hang around for the next few years, these flexible booking policies and solutions will likely remain in place for a long time to come in an effort to boost company and corporate traveller confidence.
Improved loyalty programmes
Many airlines and hotels have turned to their loyalty programmes with the goal of enticing a return to regular corporate travel, thus filling those empty seats and rooms faster for the duration of the travel industry revival. It is likely that these travel suppliers will continue putting more effort into value-adds for business travellers for a lengthy period of time, offering bonuses such as double qualifying miles, middle-seat blocking for optimised social distancing, and shortcuts to qualify for ‘elite’ status.
Desai concludes: “Ultimately, business travel will always be an important part of securing new business, nurturing business relationships and ongoing growth and prosperity. Therefore, it is vital for companies and employees to embrace the different changes brought about by COVID-19, and for travel suppliers to support them in doing so.”