Some say business travel has peaked and will never return to the levels that it hit pre-pandemic. Going forward, with more people working remotely and a new comfort level with (and maybe appreciation of) virtual meetings, the demand for business travel will be permanently diminished, according to this viewpoint. On top of that, an increasing concern about the impact on the global climate is expected to have a downward pressure on business travel. In the Business Travel News article above, Scott Gillespie imagines that every pre-trip approval request will be met with the CFO's default response of "Why can't you do these meetings virtually? There's no travel cost, no travel time lost and no carbon emissions, right?"
But even if business travel does not come all the way back, it is expected to come back. According to Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, “All indications are corporate travel is ready to start coming back and will come back pretty aggressively beginning the second half of this year.” So what are others expecting?
In their "Five Trends That Will Define the Future of Business Travel," Skift and TripActions present a mix of executive interviews, data and industry news to identify five trends that will likely define the new corporate travel paradigms of the near future. Those five trends are that companies:
- will now have to have Travel Managers act as Risk Managers
- are reinventing the relationship between business travel and spend management,
- are feeling it is essential to have cloud-based, integrated, end-to-end solutions
- believe that consumer travel will kickstart a business travel renaissance
- expect that remote work will place greater importance on corporate travel
That last one may seem counterintuitive, especially in light of what we suggested at the beginning of this post. If you can get work done remotely and in virtual meetings, why do you need to travel? But the reality is when travel managers were asked, "When it comes to getting things done, is meeting in person more effective than meeting virtually?" almost 80% either strongly agreed or agreed that meeting in person is more effective! Travelers themselves were even more adamant, with 83% strongly agreeing or agreeing that more gets done when meeting in person.
Extrapolating to global mobility, there are likely some similar conversations that are being had or will be had related to whether the ROI is there for specific assignments or relocations. So where are you at in your predictions for what will happen to companies' global mobility programs? Will business travel ever rise to pre-pandemic levels or has the cap been set? While a company will still continue to relocate employees and their families and send expatriates in for critical work and work experiences, is it possible that the pandemic's impact will have forever reduced volumes — or will volumes actually increase because people now value personal, face-to-face relationships and experiences more than ever?
There’s no question that 2020 brought a seismic shift to the corporate travel sector. In the face of a global pandemic, nearly every stakeholder—including suppliers, business travelers, business travel platforms, and travel managers—had to reassess old habits, shift business plans, and reimagine what business travel might look like moving forward.