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The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected the global economy and shifted business priorities in many industries around the world. One such industry is business travel, which has seen the numbers of overall business travelers decrease as the result of travel restrictions and shelter-in-place orders. Conversations abound about safely returning to work and what changes will linger. Business travel is likely to return, but with an increased focus on health, safety, compliance, and duty of care.
On 1 April, Pew Research reported that ninety-one percent of the global population lived in countries with coronavirus-related travel restrictions, 39% of which were countries with completely closed borders. Since then, travel restrictions remain strict with the majority of countries completely or partially closed, save for a small handful of countries without restrictions, according to Kayak’s travel restrictions map. China’s Ministry of Commerce now reports that some key foreign companies can apply for an exemption to business travel into China, but must still self-quarantine.
An April survey from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) shows that 58% of surveyed companies canceled business travel trips, with respondents from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan canceling the most trips. When asked about the industry’s road to recovery, 57% of respondents felt neither negative nor positive and the majority believed that the worst had already happened in regard to cancelled flights and suspended hotel operations. With 21% expecting to carry out their post-coronavirus plans in 6 months, the industry is looking to the future.
Travel industry analysts interviewed by Forbes believe that when business travel does return, it will have changed significantly. For example, travel will be mostly concentrated on shorter travel within regions, with an increased focus on health and safety. While sales and “certain other kinds of business trips likely will remain essential and continue to be big revenue drivers for travel companies,” many businesses have learned that they can continue to work safely and at a lower cost through virtual options. The focus on business travel compliance will likely increase, with crisis communication and duty of care taking priority.
Travel businesses are already receiving guidance for conducting travel safely. In consultation with public health experts and based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Travel Association released “Travel in the New Normal: Industry Guidance for Promoting the Health and Safety of All Travelers.” It recommends that travel businesses should focus on strategies such as adapting operations and employee practices for safety, enhancing sanitations, and promoting health screenings. Such practices ensure that those who do travel for business are in safe environments, helping to decrease disease transmission and get business travel back on its feet.
Until this critical industry reaches its new normal, such health and safety tactics with compliance and duty of care in mind bring it one step closer to business recovery. While the new normal is yet to be seen, business travel professionals and travel companies remain at the forefront of the future of business travel.
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