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Business Travel: Rebuilding the Corporate Sector

Much of the publicity surrounding air travel usually covers leisure and low-fare airlines, holiday hot-spots and taking a break somewhere. This is also where the biggest discounts are usually found, at least those accessible to the general public. Booking well in advance, and usually online gets the best fares for many but vacation fares are not where many airlines make their money. Outside the LCC arena, corporate and business travel has been the life-blood of most airlines. The Blue Swan Daily looks at the future of business travel.

(image - Kevan James)

Slowly but surely, countries across the world have started opening up borders and business travellers are starting to emerge out of lockdown. Companies around the world may have started to look at comprehensive solutions to rebuild traveller confidence but for many of them, “the uncertainly of the corporate travel landscape continues to linger at the back of their minds,” says FCM Travel Solutions, a global provider of travel management services.

But as we return to travel, what are the important issue to consider? Like the rest of the world, corporate travel managers are finding themselves in a new normal with vastly different issues to consider as they gradually feel their way through the myriad of information about what effect the pandemic has had and will continue to have on business travel. They may not have been doing much flight booking recently but a lot of their time has been taken up repatriating staff from around the world. Stepping carefully through all the details of each country as they gradually open up, discover what flights are still operating and keeping staff safe in the meantime takes time and energy.

Kevan James

As the world gradually lifts lockdown restrictions, it is generally agreed that leisure travel will resume much earlier than business travel with signs of recovery already being seen in many areas. But due to the travel restrictions in place for so many weeks, the pandemic has demonstrated to a lot of companies that much travel can be replaced by video conferencing, leading travel managers to predict that a lot of international travel will be deferred until 2021.

FCM Travel Solutions highlighted in its recent ‘Representation vs Reality: Is business travel really needed post COVID-19?’ webinar that creating a new travel policy is one of the main areas of focus for travel managers right now, with new layers of approval and budget considerations being threaded into the mix.

Managers will be delving deeper into the reason for a trip and whether there is an alternative. The term ‘essential travel’ is likely to be redefined in the coming months. Winning new business is one of the main reasons a company would consider going on a business trip, but against that will be questions about what alternatives exist to the travel, what risks are associated with any travel and whether they are likely to lose the business by not going. It is believed that travel related to health care, manufacturing and supply chains will mostly get back to normal as soon as possible. Face-to-face meetings are seen as extremely important so any client-facing functions such as factory visits will likely be back up and running quickly. Many travel managers are seeing their travel budgets being put under the spotlight. Up to 80% of FCM’s clients have reported that their travel budgets will drop from between 50-70% and will form part of the cost cutting measures required by companies to preserve cash flow. Previous travel resources are likely to be reallocated to issues such as risk management and continuous investment on automation and digitalisation.

In order to facilitate those essential travel trips and provide support to their staff, companies are reporting that they are busy creating new travel handbooks to help their travelling staff. The handbooks are likely to include country guides, hotel directories and details of any health issues or requirements. What measures have airlines and hotels put in place and is any price differential justifiable? The travel manager will need to be up to speed on all aspects when selecting vendors.

Emergency contacts and information on how to get back home quickly should the need arise need to be included. Travel managers will have to be up to date on the changes and requirements happening in countries and cities to ensure they can provide complete advice to the traveller. Many business travellers may not be that comfortable with the idea of travelling to a certain destination so need to have all information to hand to make them feel as safe as possible.

Heathrow Airport Ltd.

Risk management is going to be an important aspect in the months to come. For instance will responsibility lie with human resources or with the security team? Different companies will likely handle this in different ways but whoever handles it must take all aspects into consideration, especially when travelling to high risk destinations. The travel manager’s role is set to become more demanding because while the effects of the pandemic might be easing in a lot of the world, it’s likely to change travelling habits for good.

Preparing for the new future – The Corporate Travel Community came together

in Shanghai for its first 2020 Roundtable Discussion

There is no such thing as business as usual anymore as we adapt to continued social distancing requirements. But that doesn’t mean an end to events, they simply have a different feel as organisers and delegates adapt to life in the new normal. In the corporate travel community a key milestone took place earlier this month when the Corporate Travel Community (CTC) hosted delegates at its CTC Roundtable Discussion – China – the first live CTC event since global lockdowns were enforced.

With the support of Accor, the half-day event took place at the Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai, China on 17-Jun-2020 and the roundtable event comprised of two insightful panel discussions that uncovered the perspective of both travel vendors and travel managers on adapting to a post-Covid-19 world, all delivered from a safe distance apart. What was likely one of the first live events to take place since the global pandemic outbreak, the occasion aimed to help re-establish and facilitate vital connections for the local corporate travel community. The event also provided a platform for education and open dialogue on the ‘new normal’ of travel programmes within the region.

Heathrow Airport Ltd.

CTC’s executive director, Benson Tang was able to attend the event, but only after facing a gruelling journey from Hong Kong and an enforced 14-day quarantine in a Shanghai hotel ahead of being able to attend the event. “The last few months have been a trying time for all. While CTC have established digital initiatives to support our beloved community, there is no alternative to events and so we hope this will pave the way for the progressive re-establishment of more live events,” he said. “Our community have welcomed our return which should be recognised as a true testament to the importance of reconnecting the travel industry in a safe, welcoming environment to help drive inspiration and recovery through access to content and high-level discussions,” added Mr Tang.

The milestone event was supported by hospitality specialist Accor and its Greater China vice president of sales and distribution Ken Wong joined the CTC Roundtable Discussion – China. He said: “Accor has been taking a leadership role in driving innovative ways to deliver positive outcomes during our ongoing business recovery period, through partnerships with key industry leaders. While consumer behaviour and decision making for travel has shifted dramatically, we’ve remained agile.

“With overwhelming feedback across various domestic leisure promotions and as the market begins to recover, we see this as the right time to encourage corporate business travel. There is great potential in partnering with the Corporate Travel Community to look after the wellbeing of business travellers amongst our brands ranging from ultra-luxury, luxury, premium and lifestyle to mid-scale and quality economy,” he explained. “It is critical to ensure our guests feel at ease in order to reignite their travel desire. We are pleased to share that through ALL – Accor Live Limitless, Accor has just launched ALL SAFE cleanliness programme to further elevate operational protocols and processes with regards to cleanliness, hygiene and food safety.” Mr Wong added.

Kevan James

The corporate travel landscape is seeing irreversible shifts across all travel verticals due to the current global environment, and so managed travel is having to rapidly evolve to keep up with the changes. In 2020 successful travel programmes and providers will need to adapt to change, rather than seeking to simply manage, control or avoid it.

The wellbeing of business travellers is a particularly prominent discussion point right now. Speaking at the event, Nixon Chung, founder & managing director Camloy International said: “SME’s attention to the well-being of staff is no different than global conglomerates. As a founder of a regional SME firm, I pay strong emphasis on travel safety of my employees even more during COVID period and the education of the employees to be mindful of sustainable tourism. These are the shared values of many SME leaders,” he added.

Tao Sha, senior procurement manager, personal business and mobility cluster lead at Philips also highlighted the increased importance of staff welfare during the ongoing global public health crisis. He said: ” [Our] staff’s health and safety is paramount to the success of our firm. Hence, we are communicating and discussing with our travel suppliers for extra health measures such as the new social distancing requirements.”

The CTC Roundtable Discussion – China certainly provided a timely opportunity to help corporate travel managers stay ahead of changes in the industry. Its successful deliver means others are now in the pipeline.

© The Blue Swan Daily

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