As the long-awaited green list holiday destinations have been unveiled, the airline and associated travel industries must be breathing a sigh of relief. However, whilst the future looks clearer for holidaymakers, the return of business travel has been put on ice over the course of the pandemic.
The business travel industry has dealt with many upheavals over the years, but few have come close to Covid-19. And it looks as though pre-pandemic service isn’t going to resume any time soon. Senior leaders are now rethinking their business travel commitments for the long term.
Last year, executives at a boardroom level spent an average of 48 days abroad or away from their family last year, according to Bupa Global’s research. Almost half, however, believed they had better mental health from travelling less and at least one in four intend to cease all time spent away from home for work this year.
While there is still uncertainty around the emergence of a new variant and its impact on the vaccine rollout and fears over how quickly our economy recovers, it is clear that as life results, many senior leaders will be less likely to travel. This is especially true for destinations heavily impacted by the virus, such as India.
We have learnt, during the pandemic, that video conferencing can bolster communication between geographically distant executives. There is also a growing awareness of the environmental impact of excessive travel. Addressing this concern is pressure for businesses keen to demonstrate their ESG credentials.
For some executives, it will be necessary to resume travel. While Zoom can fill a gap, it cannot always replace in person meetings. Essential processes such as training, team building and pitches can all be more productive when in face to face. The dynamics of face-to-face meetings provide clearer direction than video calls and allow for more collaboration and better feedback. There’s no glitches, delays, or other technological mishaps.
Perhaps more difficult to define, but equally important, is addressing the emotional aspect of travelling again. It’s understandable that many will have found the last year “grounding” in more ways than one, and feel uncertain about what effect a return to travel may have on their mental and emotional wellbeing. After a year of lockdown and existing within environments under their own control, it can feel strange to be in new places and situations where they don’t know what choices others have been making – and how that can affect them.
For those keen to return to the skies quickly, it is important to address the emotional aspect of business travel. It can be physically and psychologically taxing. Businesses need to implement initiatives to reduce the risks to business travellers. They need to be able to take a flexible approach, which focuses on employees at an individual level, rather than implementing blanket protocols.