Claudia Barton, CMAC Group
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dynamic shift in the way we live, work, and communicate. The pandemic grounded business travel to a halt across the globe and online working became the ‘new norm’, with many meetings and conferences taking place virtually over platforms such as Google Meet, Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
However, as vaccination rates across the world increase and business confidence returns, there is a new sense of optimism that corporate travel will make a comeback in 2022. Many business leaders have recognised the value of face-to-face interaction, clients are requesting in-person visits, and industry events/conferences made a return — in live and hybrid formats — in 2021 after the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.
Whilst we don’t expect business travel to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, we have identified five emerging corporate travel trends to watch out for in a rapidly evolving environment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given today’s workforce newfound freedom and the shift towards remote working has led to a new trend in travel. The movement towards a more mobile workforce has been accelerated by the pandemic, with businesses adapting to remote and hybrid-working strategies to ensure continuity.
By using a range of web-based platforms, employees have proven that they can connect with clients and colleagues online from anywhere in the world. With little but a laptop and Wi-Fi required, employees can work from home, dedicated workspaces, hotels, or cafes (cybersecurity issues notwithstanding), and they aren’t limited to their home country.
The number of remote workers who travel to different locations around the world on a regular basis has increased post-pandemic, with experts now referring to this as the ‘digital nomad’ trend. Countries such as Barbados, Croatia and Romania have launched new visas for remote workers to capitalise on the remote worker trend; allowing digital nomads to stay and work for an overseas employer for up to 12 months.
Whilst the appetite for change exists among workers, there are few organisations that have an official policy for digital nomads. If the digital nomad trend is something you want your business to capitalise on, it's not only the responsibility of the travel manager; it requires involvement from other stakeholders in your business. Don’t forget to communicate remote working policies clearly to all employees, providing clarity and increased awareness on how to stay safe whilst working from alternative locations.
This may sound like a tough task, but it’s vital to ensure your organisation is meeting its duty of care obligations to your employees. Remember, it’s important to know where your staff are and ensure that you can contact them quickly in the event of an emergency.
Measuring the value of travel isn’t a new concept for travel managers, however, increasing the effectiveness of the journey to meet company goals will be more important than ever.
The next 12 months of business travel and meetings will be critical. Travel managers will be required to clearly outline what business travel is deemed necessary and what isn’t. Understanding where and why virtual meetings have fallen short throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic will help to determine this. Defining which in-person meetings are essential and which can be held online is key.
Travel Managers won’t be alone in setting new rules for business travel, as government guidelines on COVID-19 are changing regularly and will vary by location — meaning that your travel policies will need to be amended as changes occur.
Alongside this, traveller preferences and concerns are shifting as new data emerges. Making sure to stay connected with your travellers is essential and providing them with the freedom to manage their travel itineraries will be key to your programmes success this year.
Switching from the office to remote working has eliminated the need to commute for almost 23.5 million Brits during the pandemic. Throughout 2022, as restrictions ease, we suspect that travel patterns will shift, and remote work will lead to more travel.
With 84 per cent of UK businesses planning on having a hybrid, flexible or remote workforce post-pandemic, what used to be a commute to the office now becomes a business trip. Employers are recognising that they still have a duty to keep their teams engaged, focused, and integrated; and occasionally, workers may need to travel to internal meetings held at locations specified by their company.
As a result, organisations and travel managers will need to adjust their programs to the not-so-new ways of working, taking into consideration that the commuter of yesterday is the business traveller of today.
The impact of business travel on the environment is a hot topic, with many in the industry claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a rethink on how their organisations and staff organise arrange travel in 2022.
With challenges coming from key stakeholders — employees, clients, governments, regulators, and investors — organisations need to act fast to ensure that sustainability is at the forefront of their decision-making. And, as the spotlight on sustainability is now greater than ever before, there is mounting pressure for the travel managers to prioritise responsible practices and reduce their organisations travel impact on the planet.
Hoping to ‘build back better’, following the COVID-19 travel bans, new initiatives are being launched to tackle the impact that corporate travel has on our environment. From creating new guidelines and tools that enable employees to make climate-smart travel decisions to implementing electric-only company car policies and carbon offsetting programmes; companies of all sizes and from all sectors are striving to deliver positive change.
Sustainability can no longer be an afterthought for travel managers. Many are leading the way in creating ambitious carbon emission targets; however, it is the delivery and actions which will determine the long-term success of a sustainable travel programme.
The global pandemic has transformed behaviours and habits, with many people becoming more safety conscious as a result. We predict that this will drive changes in how workers will travel — if and when they need to.
In 2021, Opinium Research data revealed that 30% of people plan to change the way that they travel post-pandemic, with many commuters expressing safety concerns about getting on packed trains. Travel managers will need to offer alternative solutions to cater to their travellers’ perceptions of safety and help them to maintain a level of social distancing.
Controlling risks and taking measures to limit the number of people your staff come into contact with is essential. Travel Managers may be expected to help travellers plan their journey from the moment they leave their home; especially as we say hello to a new type of business traveller (trend #3 on this list).
The effect of the global pandemic is likely to impact the way we travel for work throughout the year. And, while we won’t be saying goodbye to virtual meetings for good, we’ve started to see “green shoots” of business travel returning.
Every day brings new opportunities, and whilst we’re realistic about the pace of business travel’s recovery, it’s important we fuel optimism across an industry which has been hit hard since March 2020. Rebuilding and resetting is key, and we must move forward with agility.
To find out how CMAC can help employees travel safely, check out our door to door solutions.