Business travel and the road to recovery

Business travel and the road to recovery

The pandemic left an indelible mark on countless aspects of our lives, including one many of us once took for granted — business travel. As leisure travel begins to see a robust recovery (thanks in part to rising vaccination rates and falling COVID-19 and variant cases in the United States), a recent Deloitte report indicates that business travel still trails pre-pandemic levels, and a return to 2019 business travel norms is likely a couple of years away. Deloitte projects that business travel spend will only “reach 55% of 2019 levels by the end of 2022.”

Meanwhile, budget-fatigued organizations have realized that reduced travel expenditure has become a remedy for suffering bottom lines and are using it as an opportunity to reevaluate, rethink, and restructure travel policies while they bank welcome financial savings. But it’s not all doom and gloom — corporate travel is returning. Here’s what experts have to say about a few bright spots on the business travel horizon.

Return to on-location interaction

Malik Anderson writes in “7 Business Travel Trends Set to Shape 2022” that internal meetings are anticipated to show growth this year, sparking opportunity for the travel industry. Serving as a catalyst is the growing realization that web conferencing lacks the depth necessary to convey vital messaging. Advantages of onsite meetings include improved attention, increased networking and engagement opportunities, valuable side conversations, and beneficial social interactions.

Also under consideration is how to address travel needs of employees who transitioned to not only a work-from-home situation, but also those who moved to new permanent locations, often in a different region. As corporations begin to require some employees to return to the office, they’re grappling with decisions about those employees who relocated. On the table for discussion includes when and how often to reimburse expenses for travel back to the company base for compulsory meetings. Some corporations are setting caps on travel reimbursement to and from headquarters — requiring anything over the cap to be on employees’ tabs — while at the same time increasingly requiring employees to return as needed. Consider collaborating with your corporate travel clients to develop new or updated travel policies in light of the current remote and hybrid employee landscape.

Return to live conferences and events

Even if the threat of another pandemic fades, video meetings and conferences are here to stay. Executives are, for now, embracing web events as not only cost-efficient and sensitive to employees’ health and safety expectations, but preferred by many employees. However economical, though, those same executives are beginning to realize that some important success factors, such as motivating and influencing workers, lag when attempted online. This observation supports a February 2022 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report that predicts some in-person trips — for instance, sales pitches and trade conferences — will return to pre-pandemic levels this year. The Deloitte study further states that “live events moved up three spots among triggers to increase travel, entering the top five.”

Face-to-face and in-person meetings encourage participants to focus on presenters by eliminating online disruptions, and they allow presenters to assess the level of engagement and read attendees’ subtle body language signals lost in online modes. The shared experience often leads to higher levels of trust among team members, building a sense of connection that’s missing in remote work. It’s no wonder there’s a push toward executive reassessment of online messaging.

As the pendulum swings away from web-only communication as the default method of message delivery and corporations once again book live events, executives realize that when they outlay money on employees’ travel, it magnifies an event’s importance. As quoted in Forbes, one consultant says he is “treating an in-person meeting as much more precious than it was in the past.” Even when non-reimbursable, employees are keen to book trips that augment their connection to worksites and colleagues.

Return to face-to-face dialogue

That all-important ability to read non-verbal language and adjust messaging allows members of professions dependent upon human relations to perform better, and there’s widespread agreement that some interactions are most effective in person. Sales comes to mind, as do industries that rely on establishing and maintaining personal relationships, working directly with the public, and influencing others. Communicating with clients electronically may be convenient and cost-effective, but virtual meetings to pitch and sell new products is limited. Messages requiring a personal touch are returning to travel mode to restore relationships that may have weakened during the pandemic.

Focus on flexibility and amenities

The travel industry is undergoing its biggest change since the emergence of commercial flying. We’ve witnessed how the world’s health environment can turn on a dime, and we should all be prepared for possible setbacks such as unpredictable border closures or quarantine restrictions. As a result, successful travel managers recognize the advantages of being able to quickly change travelers’ waylaid plans and are innovating solutions to deliver seamless resolution. The feeling of support during those times can boost travelers’ confidence and leave a positive impression.

The bottom line

While somewhat disappointing, today’s research still offers a glimmer of hope: business travel is coming back, though not as quickly as leisure travel. If you’re a travel management company, we encourage you to take this time to collaborate with your small- to mid-sized corporate travel clients to develop updated travel policies for this new era, including having the right payment solution on board. Purpose-built for the travel industry, ConnexPay allows travel companies to save money on merchant processing fees and earn more revenue share on issuing card payments.

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