As the economy slowly re-opens, we may be a few months away from an easing of travel restrictions. While most businesses will likely continue to favor videoconferencing as a safer alternative to travel, some companies’ operations are global in nature – for them business travel is not only common, but essential for the business to sustain its operations for the future.
In this context, how informed are your travellers of your new policies, approval processes, and all the changes that have taken place to the routine of travelling for business? To get a sense for some of their thoughts, concerns and expectations, we interviewed a very frequent traveller around these key elements.
Our interviewee is a director in a global organization in the aerospace industry who travelled internationally very frequently before the pandemic. We are happy to share with you their perspective on the issues linked with travelling after the pandemic, on the communication efforts and what they see the future being, when it comes to travelling for business.
Encore: As a traveler, what would you rate your level of comfort in participating in the following travel activities, 1 being “extremely uncomfortable” and 5 being “extremely comfortable”?
- Taking a domestic flight: 1 2 3 (4) 5
- Taking an international flight: 1 2 (3) 4 5
- Staying in a hotel: 1 2 (3) 4 5
- Renting a car: 1 2 (3) 4 5
- Taking the train: 1 2 (3) 4 5
Frequent Traveller (FT): I’d definitely feel more comfortable taking a domestic flight within Canada because I know what the situation is regionally and I’m able to stay informed on the progression of the pandemic within our country. I know the measures put into place by the authorities so there’s a higher level of comfort.
Travelling internationally is another story, since I am not as familiar with the measures in place in other countries. For example, if I take a flight with an airline in a foreign country without mandatory screening before boarding – they could let an infected person onboard a plane.
Same for the hotel and car rental aspect. I don’t travel much by train, but if I had to, since you are on a train for longer periods – I’d want to know what the procedures and measures in place are.
Encore: What measures would it take from the various vendors to make you comfortable enough to travel?
FT: For me, a lot of it is about getting clear communication of the cleaning protocols and how frequently these protocols are validated and checked. Readily available hand cleaning products or facilities and mandatory masks – especially in aircrafts and hotels – are a must. Ideally, authorities would closely monitor the travel history from “hot spots” especially on international flights, in order to prevent exposing other passengers even if there are no symptoms present.
Encore: When do you expect business travel to start coming back, and how do you think the process will look? Will it ever make a full recovery, and if so how long do you expect the ramp up to take?
FT: It would make sense for domestic travel to resume early on and then we’ll probably see mutual discussions between countries that have the pandemic under control, in order to open travel between them, either through bi-lateral or multi-lateral agreements. My prediction is that we will see a full recovery in a 12-18 months timeframe, but there will be less travel going forward – company policies will place more focus on video conferencing as the economy rebuilds.
Encore: How have you seen businesses changing their regular activities to adapt to the crisis? Do you have any examples of activities you’ve seen changing, or innovations that have disrupted the regular course of business?
FT: There’s been all sort of changes to business as usual for most companies. In our environment, being a global company, a lot of our business processes had to be revised.
For example, most of our products need to be certified upon delivery by an official. In the past, this was done in person, with the travel, expenses and scheduling issues related to that. Now we’ve built a technology solution that enables us to get that formal process done remotely, using cameras, microphones and sensors that enable the official to get all the information they need to perform the same work, but from the comfort of their home.
I think the pandemic will serve to accelerate the implementation of similar technology in all kinds of businesses and that will help reduce the need for travel and the degree of physical interactions required to run their operations.
Encore: What areas (or industries) do you expect to exhibit the most changes in terms of technologies?
FT: Clearly, any service-based industry that use to involve physical proximity with customers and clients will have to find new ways of doing things. These businesses and their respective supply chains will be severely impacted.
Encore: Are there any areas (i.e. work flexibility, communication) that were not getting enough attention that you see being pushed ahead after the pandemic?
FT: Working remotely is now definitely on everyone’s radar, with everything that it involves from a technology, processes, and management perspective. As I said before, the pandemic will also accelerate adoption of technology that enables a reduction of the physical interaction that is required to operate the business.
Something else I see becoming a lot more relevant is trip monitoring (similar to Air Canada Concierge) so vendors can be more proactive in terms of dealing with delays, changes, cancellation or potential pandemic-related issues.
We will probably see more stringent monitoring around COVID 19, especially in areas considered hot spots, as well as changes in policies by countries affected – policies which will likely directly impact business travel and the perceived risk for the travellers.
Encore: What kind of adjustments have you had to make in the way you serve your clients and how do you see that faring after the pandemic?
FT: We all have to do our job remotely, and I see working from home policies remaining in place for the foreseeable future. We’ll all have to use videoconferencing a lot more, but I see the need for face-to-face meetings still being there. We need to deal with some complex issues involving multiple stakeholders and in-person meetings will still be required.
Encore: What solutions or recommendations are available to you from your employee to ensure safety while traveling?
FT: At this point in time, only essential travel is permitted and most of us are still awaiting longer term guidance in terms of future travel needs. Things are still in flux at this point in time.
Encore: If an employee needs to fly, what do you imagine as the ideal safety and approval processes, while considering the cost, safety, and psychological state of the employee.
FT: I imagine the approval processes will be expanded to ensure we avoid areas or countries of particular concern. I anticipate the costs to travel will be higher as well, because of routing restrictions and other measures that are in place within the various providers.
Employees will probably be provided with a travel hotline that will be expanded in scope to help ensure their safety and protect both their physical and mental health. There is today more of a psychological strain to travelling that will need to be addressed.
Encore: Can you tell me about your travel habits before the pandemic? How do you see them changing going forward?
FT: It is still early to say for sure. The most obvious to me is that I used to travel extensively before the pandemic, and I see this being somewhat curtailed over the next six to twelve months.
Encore: How informed do you feel on the new requirements around travel going forward? What do you expect employers / travel agencies to do to keep their employees informed?
FT: I haven’t seen too much communications yet from the company so far specifically regarding travel, but I expect the company will place a strong emphasis on communication going forward, especially during travel – in order to address and minimize travel-related concerns. The vast majority of our business is conducted outside of Canada. Their communications on all health/safety/remote working policies have been plentiful.
What I would like to see from travel companies is more focus on real-time services. Many will likely remain in their bubble of being travel reservation providers. I see those providers with the vision to become more traveller focused and developing more proactive responses to delays, changes and flight cancellations for example to gain the upper hand.