Bill Gates recently predicted that over 50% of business travel will go away. Do I really think half of pre-pandemic travel will never return? There is an argument that could be made that it might not be necessary to take all the trips we once took, and some people can work from home and be as or more productive than they were in the office. But I don’t agree that 50% of travel will go away – corporate travel lives in the heart of many organizations because of the impact it has on our relationships with clients, prospects, and colleagues, and the empowerment of employees to do their jobs to the best of their ability. As leaders of your organizations, the onus is with you to get your employees back on the road if and when they are ready and it is safe to do so.
The last several months have shown us that we really have no way to truly predict which suppliers across the industry will survive the pandemic or be able to operate at pre-pandemic efficiencies, and this will likely continue to be the case for many months to come. What we do have in our control is the dialogue of traveler empowerment and the impact of the pandemic around the culture of travel within our organizations. Simply put, we have to focus on our people, and this should be done in two ways:
Make Travel Safety the Default
When I was growing up, anytime I used the word “nice” to describe someone, my parents would tell me that “nice” is default and would challenge me to think of something more insightful based on an interaction or conversation. Today, I find myself challenging colleagues and friends to provide more robust thoughts into pandemic travel experiences when they say that they felt “safe”. Safety should be the default – as decision makers in your organization, you have to provide travelers with the best policies and tools available to give them the safest traveler experience possible. Enable your travelers with real-time safety and security information at their points of sale. Provide them with duty-of-care solutions that will give updates on-demand. Recommend or mandate that suppliers with the highest level of safety standards are allowable regardless of cost.
Think through ways to reduce concerns about safety from your employees’ decision to travel and allow them to focus on whether or not travel is the best way to do their job. Empower your employees to make decisions based on successfully achieving their goals and spare them the burden of deciding whether or not it is safe to travel. Safety shouldn’t be a consideration when traveling, it should be a given.
Rebuild Travel Culture
Pre-pandemic travel culture varied significantly across organizations, some traveling weekly, others on a need-to basis only. I encourage internal dialogues about how the organizations feel about getting back on the road. Reach out to leaders of teams with significant travel and see how their colleagues feel. Ask what they need to get back on the road if that is what they would like to do. Give them more time if travel isn’t something they are currently comfortable with. Historically, travel culture was long built based on the policies and preferred supplier programs we put in place, but that is now flipped on its head; travel culture will likely inform the policies, supplier programs, and vendors of the future.
Get creative! As an example, there are companies who have allowed sales executives to relocate to be more centrally located in their sales region, allowing them to take more day trips and reducing the need for air travel and overnight hotel stays. There are so many more solutions like this that serve both the employee and company well, but none of them happen without starting the conversation and asking the question of what makes the traveler most comfortable.
The return to travel is going to be a bit bumpy, but we will land the plane. Talk to your colleagues and team leaders. Build the safest program possible that gives your employees key information for booking decisions. It’s going to take time, but we will get through this together!
Hansini Sharma is Practice Lead, Corporate Travel for Acquis Consulting