As a vaccination program gathers speed, businesses across the world are starting to plan for a return to travel in 2021. Although it’s challenging to predict how the next 12 months will play out, clear trends are emerging in the wake of COVID-19. Some were brought on by the pandemic, some were accelerated by it and others were suppressed in 2020 but will re-emerge once stability is restored.

For travel managers looking to build a robust “return-to-travel” program, acknowledging and adapting to these trends will be an essential part of building traveler confidence and reintroducing in-person meetings.

  1. Unmanaged travel will be “managed out”. The mass chaos and confusion caused by COVID-19 has strengthened the resolve of travel manager to significantly reduce, if not prohibit, unmanaged travel. If travelers book flights and hotels directly via third-party sites, they do not have access to the company’s alerts and advisories on health and hygiene at their destination or technology that enables their employer to quickly account for and contact them in the event of a crisis.

It is perhaps unsurprising that a recent snap poll conducted in the Egencia Connect Community, a place for travel managers to share insights and best practices, revealed that where companies do not mandate the use of a TMC or travel booking tool, travel managers believe there is now more executive support for doing so.

  1. Travel managers will become trusted CEO advisors. How and when employees return to travel is a CEO priority in 2021, providing a unique opportunity for travel managers to act as a trusted advisor. A Sept. 2020 survey of Egencia customers found that 54% of travel managers now have “more engagement with executive leadership” – a jump of 50%, compared to pre-COVID.

In the next few quarters, CEOs will continue to lean heavily on travel managers for guidance on how to rebuild the confidence of their traveling workforce safely and responsibly. This is an opportunity for travel professionals to grow their influence within their organization, as well as educate senior management on the strategies, policies, and tools needed to thrive in a “new normal.”

  1. Travel programs will pivot from price to employee experience. Business travel programs have historically focused on controlling costs, but in 2021 there will be a major shift towards traveler wellbeing and duty of care. The chaotic scenes at airports in February as the virus started to spread have reminded senior executives of the weight of responsibility on their shoulders to protect their traveling workforce. It has also knocked the confidence of travelers who will need more empathetic policies and hands-on support to return to travel.

Travel managers will respond by relaxing certain policies such as allowing employees to take a car service from the airport rather than public transport. They will also increase their investment in technologies that support employees on the road and enable them to dynamically respond to an ever-changing landscape of restrictions and regulations. These include alerts and advisories integrated directly into the booking path, traveler tracking tools, and AI-powered virtual assistants.

Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” While 2020 has taught us that it is impossible to predict the future, it is important to anticipate trends that will shape travel once “business as usual” starts to resume. The most successful organizations will put travelers firmly at the center of their plans and seize the emerging opportunities that disruption often creates.

Source: Phocus Wire


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