Travel is going to change in the months, and even years, to come. COVID-19 will be remembered as a disruptive virus that transformed the world we used to know. How will out attitudes to business travel change? Everyone is talking about the “New Normal”, but what does it mean? Let’s demystify it and take a look at the potential impact of the coronavirus on the way we travel for work.
What is "The New Normal"?
‘Normal’ seems just out of reach. The coronavirus pandemic, in a few short months, has transformed our world. And governments, businesses and people still have a lot of adjusting to do.
One area that’s going to look very different is travel, including business travel. Business travel had been on the rise, so the impact of the virus has been, and will be, stark. We can see from the below Business Insider chart how the airline industry – having had to ground most of its planes – has screeched to a halt. Commercial flights have fallen almost 60% in just four months.
Business travel will be less common but more mindful
Business travellers need to start thinking about travel in the aftermath of the coronavirus lockdowns, when the travel industry may be a very different beast to the one it is today. What will change? What new rules will be in place? And will companies want their employees to travel, having seen the benefits of video conferencing and home working?
But it would be wrong to think we just have to react to this ‘new normal’ – this could be a catalyst for redefining business travel as part of our efforts to build a greener, better world after all of this is over.
How will our attitudes to business travel change?
With every financial crisis, commentators have predicted the end of business travel. It’s a logical conclusion to reach – in more prudent times, CEOs recognise the savings made from less travel and endeavour to make those savings permanent. It has never, however, worked out that way, and business travel has actually been on the rise in recent years, even as we continue to live in the sluggish-growth shadow of the global financial crisis. Commentators were also sure that a crisis like 9/11 would spell the end of business travel, but it soon bounced back.
In 2018, spending on business trips in the United States rose to $327 billion – up 22% from five years earlier. This accounted for around 40% of all travel expenditure – businesses obviously feel they need to travel, and the travel industry obviously needs their business.
Did you know that a comprehensive T&E policy is essential to survive the changes of the "new normal"?
An existential crisis
But past comparisons don’t work here. Most recessions don’t result in grounded planes and empty airports, passenger-less trains and deserted motorways – this is more of an existential crisis for the travel industry. According to Bloomberg News, as early as mid-March, the spread of COVID-19 across the United States had resulted in 50 cancelled events with an estimated attendance of 940,000 people.
And it’s not just the impact of the virus itself; some people are going to be reluctant to travel, even once planes are flying again. Although public opinion is more split in the United States, polls throughout Europe show strong support for lockdown measures – many UK residents are reportedly anxious about lockdown ending. This is not the attitude of a population itching to travel hundreds and thousands of miles across the world. When the time comes to travel again, some employees may find themselves in a difficult position. Some will, not unreasonably, ask, “What if cases spike, a lockdown is announced, and I can’t get home?” There will also likely be a great deal of stigma around large gatherings – many will be reluctant to host or attend conferences for some time, further diminishing the need for travel.
The call of video conferencing
Businesses are also likely to review what’s worked well and what hasn’t during the lockdown. One of businesses’ and employees’ first questions may be, is video conferencing enough? Undoubtedly, it will save money, and many businesses have functioned well during lockdown with only virtual contact, both between employees and between employees and clients. But is something missing in these meetings? Is there something fundamental about meeting face-to-face, shaking someone’s hand and sharing a meal? For those deals, such as mergers & acquisitions, that are genuinely life-changing – sometimes for thousands of employees – it’s hard to imagine those deals being struck over Zoom.
We’re not sure if the ‘you need to be in the room’ attitude will ever really go away.
There is a connection that it’s hard to replicate over video – we’ve probably all felt this in the past couple of months, even when talking to the friends and family. Video conferencing has also shown itself to be less useful when more people are involved.
When people can meet face-to-face once more, human nature may just take over, and this could be spoken of as another crisis when business travel may have been cut but wasn’t. Plus, many will want to once again demonstrate their commitment to their clients and show that their brand – their company – is fully back in business after the coronavirus outbreak. It may be the case that those who travel first will reap the rewards, just as the handbrake is lifted on the global economy.
Some of us may have to travel
Many CEOs and other senior members of staff will also need to get out and visit offices around the world. You can’t see what’s happening on the ground over Zoom or Skype for Business.
But it isn’t just about global companies demonstrating that it is business as usual; smaller firms rely on travel too. There aren’t any trade fairs taking place right now, but there will be in time, and these are ideal places for smaller firms to set up their stall and make some contacts. You can’t replicate that over a computer, though some have already tried going down the virtual conference route.
Get on board with Rydoo
Since the planning stage of your business travel, Rydoo is your best friend. Book your hotel, flights and collect your per diems – everything in our app and in the palm of your hand.
Now that you have more insights on how will our attitudes to business travel change, you know how handy a T&E management software can be. Book a demo with one of our specialists and find out how Rydoo can help your business getting back on board.