The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted countless industries across the globe over the past year and a half. One industry that has faced tremendous change is the travel industry, which came to a screeching halt in 2020 as countries closed their borders to prevent the spread of the virus. Now, more than a year on, we are still seeing the pandemic’s effects on travel. While widespread vaccinations and the CDC’s updated guidelines regarding mask usage and travel for vaccinated individuals have encouraged some to take leisure trips this summer, the business travel industry is still a long way from recovery.
Pre-pandemic, business travel accounted for $300 billion of the airline industry’s $800 billion revenues according to a Fortune article. At the start of 2021, the International Airline Transport Association (IATA) predicted that the industry would see positive recovery by the end of the year. Now, the IATA predicts business travel will not fully recover until 2024 to 2025.
So what does this mean for the age of business travel?
Has Zoom ended business travel as we know it?
It’s no secret that companies are now far more hesitant to authorize business trips, considering the risks as infections continue to crop up and new variant strains spread globally. Over the past year, we all have had to adapt, including companies, who have adopted the use of video conferencing technology to facilitate communication between employees and hold meetings worldwide without the need to travel. In many ways, Zoom has transformed the way we do business.
Business travel is also incredibly expensive. A Forbes article reported that one U.K. bank saved over $300 million in travel expenses over the past year. Many short trips, especially in Europe, between company offices, are now being replaced by train travel, while unnecessary trips are being replaced by virtual meetings. Until travel regulations fully lift and vaccination numbers rise, it does not make sense to take a trip halfway across the world for a company lunch or business meeting.
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Resuming corporate travel protocols
Still, some road warriors express their dissatisfaction with Zoom meetings and long to resume standard business travel.
In an article with NBC News, road warrior Stewart Mann said, “I went from flying probably 175 to 200 flights in a normal year to two flights last year after the pandemic hit. I’m a people person and I was depressed.”
For others, such as Fred Grubbe, president of the National Precast Concrete Association, Zoom just doesn’t cut it for his job. He said his workers prefer seeing the industrial mixers and heavy equipment they need to purchase in person. “With the restrictions of Zoom, you can’t see, touch or test the merchandise. This was huge,” he said to NBC News. “It’s very important because a lot of these relationships are personal. These are vendors our members have been working with for years,” he said.
Resuming business travel protocols post-Covid19 will be a long road and travel may look different moving forward. In the U.K., companies are looking to send employees on longer, less frequent trips. “Because of the restrictions, it makes more sense to group two trips into one and stay a bit longer and then hop between cities instead of several trips,” Avi Meir, CEO and co-founder of TravelPerk told Forbes.
Other industry leaders report hearing talks of a new category of business travel emerging: ‘return to base’ meetings for digital nomads who have changed locations either temporarily or permanently during the pandemic, working remotely far from the company’s home office. These meetings would require digital nomads to travel back to the company’s home base for routine face-to-face meetings. This new category of business travel may help to revitalize the airline and travel industry as business travel slowly begins to resume post-pandemic.