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One of the most notable indicators of the business impact of the pandemic was last spring when the Global Business Travel Association reported a nearly 90 percent decrease in business travel. By comparison, the September 11 attacks only led to an 11 percent drop in business travel a month later. Air traffic has certainly rebounded this year, with data from the Transportation Security Administration showing roughly twice as many passengers are traveling this year than the same period last year.
Nevertheless, many companies hesitate to send their employees to pack because the delta variant is raging among the unvaccinated. In fact, the TSA’s data shows that travel is far from recovering to pre-pandemic levels. The latest GBTA report attributes flat business travel to concerns from Delta (the variant, not the airline) and the introduction of travel alternatives. When and, above all, how should companies travel again? Here are my top tips for post-pandemic business travel.
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It’s okay to question your journey
Yes, the cliché for so much of the way we make decisions now also applies to business travel: It could never be the same again. At the height of the pandemic, many analysts predicted the end of business travel as we know it. Your prognoses were perhaps a bit hysterical – explainable under the given circumstances. After all, Covid-19 turned Wall Street into a ghost town. One can forgive the NYC-based business media for predicting the “end of business travel as we know it” to borrow another tired stereotype.
But they might have run into something – just not for the reasons they thought. The end of business travel as we know it may have more to do with the innovations developed to replace it than with long-term fears of contagion (despite the current Delta variant). Yes, we’re talking about Zoom, but also about the many other video conferencing tools that business travelers have introduced over the past 18 months to reproduce the interpersonal dynamics as closely as possible.
Of course, there is no substitute for getting to know each other personally. Not only is a handshake better than a nod and smile through the internet airwaves, but the business trip includes so many other tangible things that are simply irreplaceable – drinks and meals after the meeting, observing workplace dynamics, the list goes on. But in some cases the techno alternatives can be almost as good as the real thing.
This is exactly what the travel industry fears most. As we continue to devalue the value of the office as remote working has proven hugely successful, we may still wonder whether we need to return to business travel – at least to the same extent as before. It’s okay to question your business trip, especially if you are concerned about the well-being of your employees.
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Once it’s safe, use your leverage
If you’ve decided that business travel is the best option for you, don’t hesitate to take advantage of the offers of many airlines and hotels to put business travelers under their spell again. In response to the sluggish recovery of business travelers, many airlines started sweetening the deal this summer. In June, American Airlines cut prices on one of the most expensive and expensive business class seats (the reclining seats, and they’re cute, indeed) by 70 percent. Hotels and convention centers are also putting on deals, finding that business travelers are not returning in droves as predicted.
Nobody knows what the future holds for business travel, even if it is safe to say that new technologies and our know-how are preventing a return to normal. Bloomberg’s latest estimate, based on a survey of large multinationals, is that business travel is almost certainly not going to hit pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, the business travel industry essentially asked a congressional committee for another major handout in the proposed Travel and Tourism Act this week. For the budget conscious, this could be good news. A new normal of the flattened demand could lead to lasting bargains even after the current variant has subsided.
Business travel may be the last thing on your mind when trying to make up for your pandemic losses, but you could be missing out on some travel savings if you continue to rely solely on Zoom or your other favorite tools. There’s a reason long-term relationships are so often doomed in romance. They just cannot reproduce the intimacy offered to them face to face. The key for business travelers looking for bargains will be to find the sweet spot when it is safe to travel but demand is still lagging behind. In fact, the evidence suggests we might be around this point on the demand curve. For vaccinated and healthy trips outside of the Delta hotspots, this could be an ideal time to get back on the road.
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