A study, conducted May 13-15 by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), found that there is growing optimism in the industry, with more than half (54%) of companies polled saying they are considering resuming all travel in the near future. The same companies added that they want to see several health and safety guidelines prioritized across all travel sectors.

Among the poll’s key findings are:

  • Most GBTA member companies who report canceling or suspending most or all trips to a specific region/country plan to resume business travel in the near future or are considering resuming travel.
  • One in four GBTA member companies report their company plans to resume travel to the United States (28%) and/or Canada (24%) in the near future.
  • Four in ten report their company is considering resuming travel to the United States (44%), Europe (43%) and Canada (41%) in the near future, but currently do not have definitive plans about when travel will resume.
  • Over half (54%) of GBTA member companies are considering resuming all travel (regardless of country or region) in the near future, although they do not currently have definitive plans for when it will resume. In addition, only one in ten (14%) GBTA member companies report they do not plan to resume all travel in the near future.

GBTA member companies are strategically planning for a resumption of domestic business travel, the study found. Many plan to initially resume travel to specific states/regions and limit travel in other areas, while other member companies plan to wait until they feel comfortable resuming travel anywhere in the country.

One-third (35%) of U.S. based GBTA member companies report they will resume travel in some states or regions but will continue to limit travel in other states or regions. Another four in ten (43%) will wait until they feel comfortable resuming travel anywhere in the United States. Half (50%) of non-U.S. members say their company will wait until they feel comfortable resuming domestic business travel throughout the country, while one-third (36%) say they will allow travel in some areas or regions of the country but continue to limit travel in other regions of the country. GBTA member companies expect their employees will be willing to travel for the first six months after restrictions are lifted. A majority (62%) believe most or some employees will be willing to travel after restrictions are lifted.

GBTA members said the ground transportation industry can take several steps to help alleviate concerns about their employee’s health and safety while traveling for business. Key actions include increase cleaning standards to exceed current standards (70%), provide hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to customers (68%), require drivers to wear face masks and gloves (58%), install a partition to separate the passenger from the driver (52%) and train drivers about sanitary practices (43%). Other actions ground transportation companies can take to help alleviate health and safety concerns include:

  • Provide additional staff training about COVID-19 sanitary practices and incident reporting (36%)
  • Require passengers to wear face masks and gloves (34%)
  • Provide more communication and information concerning cleaning protocols (28%)
  • Require drivers to stay in the driver’s seat and not assist with luggage or open the door (27%)
  • Provide face masks and gloves to passengers (16%)

In a recent survey, conducted by the firm Oliver Wyman, about three-quarters of business travelers expect to travel the same amount or even more after the pandemic, due to a resurgence of business activity, relatively low travel costs once lockdowns begin to ease, and pent-up demand after teleconferencing for months.

Currently, the prospect of taking a business trip remains a trigger for many workers, whose main worry remains avoiding the disease. Experts are already offering their thoughts on how corporate travel might change due to COVID-19, once business travel resumes.

In previous crises, the travel industry has recovered in around two to three years, depending largely on economic conditions. U.S. domestic air travel bookings for June and July are slowly on the rise, but many are still in “wait and see” mode.

Several frequent corporate travelers from various industries are suggesting that business travel will eventually resume because virtual options and teleconferencing are not sufficient for some of their needs. Some suggest mergers and acquisitions will spike in the coming quarter, pointing out that deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars often require an in-person meeting.

Certain industries might ramp their travel back up more quickly than others. Medical technology is one industry expected to bounce back quickly, since there was a lot of hiring before the shutdown. Venture capitalists and management consultants, who might be called upon to help companies cope with pressures from the pandemic-caused recession, may also be among the first corporate travelers to hit the road again.

Corporations and employees will also have to agree on new “duty-of-care” policies, meant to ensure worker safety while on company business. Travel managers are expected to look closely at their suppliers’ policies and practices around hygiene and distancing, and only use companies from a list of preferred providers.

During the last major economic downturn, many companies downgraded mid- and lower-level executives to flying coach, but still allowed high-level executives to book business or first class. This trend is likely to continue.

In addition to promoting new public health measures, service providers would be wise to promote loyalty programs to win back business travelers and their most frequent customers.

It’s all about making the traveler feel valued, special and safe, according to experts. That applies to all travelers – business and leisure.

Sources: Conde Nast Traveler, Security Magazine

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