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omicron business travel

Is Omicron impacting business travel because of corporate and government restrictions?

Are you a business traveler? Omicron travel restrictions have put a damper on global business travel. New policies and ongoing developments are currently hindering a return to travel as we know it. 

However, the travel industry continues to reflect progress and optimism in its long-term outlook for 2022, according to the latest poll from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the world’s largest business travel association and leader in education, research, networking, and advocacy.

“Here, at the start of a new year, the business travel industry and business travelers continue to face a dynamically changing landscape due to Omicron. One comment received from a poll respondent readily sums it up: ‘Uncertainty is a huge wet blanket on [business] travel,’” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA. 

“Despite the wave of Omicron and the ripple of challenges it has created, there are positive signs, and industry professionals continue to be optimistic for the long–term outlook of global business travel.”  

This most recent poll is the 25th in GBTA’s COVID-19 Recovery series, tracking the pulse of the global business travel industry during the pandemic. Below are a few highlights from the January poll

Omicron business travel poll highlights:

Optimism for the long haul – Three in four travel managers expect business travel volume at their company will be much (17%) or somewhat (58%) higher in 2022 than in 2021. Another one in ten (12%) expect business travel to remain about the same as 2021, but few (5%) expect it to be lower.  

Company travel cancellation decreases – Poll results show a decline in the percentage of companies that continue to suspend or cancel business travel. Sixty-eight percent of GBTA member companies have not yet opened international travel, compared to 79% in the October 2021 GBTA poll, and 29% have not opened domestic business travel versus 38% in October. 

Current business impacts – Six in ten (60%) suppliers/TMCs report their bookings from corporate clients decreased from the month prior. One in five (21%) characterize their bookings from corporate customers as having increased.

Comparing variants – When asked to compare Omicron and Delta variant concerns, 43% report they are either less worried about Omicron compared to Delta, and 45% are equally concerned.

Most significant barriers – When asked to name the single greatest barrier to business travel, 43% of survey respondents cited government policies that restrict travel or make it difficult (such as entry restrictions or mandatory quarantines). Travel managers based in the UK (66%) and Europe (62%) were more likely than those in North America (33%) to cite government policies as being the single greatest barrier to business travel. Conversely, North American travel managers (27%) were more likely than those in Europe (15%) to say company policies restricting employees from traveling are the biggest barrier. 

Getting back out there – Despite Omicron, most travel managers feel employees are willing to travel. Two in three (64%) feel their employees are “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business in the current environment. However, this number was down from 78% in the October GBTA poll. A majority of seven in ten (72%) GBTA members and stakeholders report they would definitely or probably travel for business. However, respondents based in Europe (49%) are more likely than those based in North America (35%) to report that their company has canceled all or most business trips.   

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While we still have a long way to go before global business travel returns to its pre-COVID norms, this recent poll shows that many remain optimistic for the future of travel despite the challenges. 

business travel

Is business travel as we know it dead? 

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. 

Photo by Surface on Unsplash

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. 

You might be interested: What to know about the new COVID-19 Delta-variant infecting young and partially vaccinated people 

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.

Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash

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.