Caution Around COVID Variants Continues to Impact Business Travel

Given the ongoing uncertainty around the Delta and other COVID-19 variants, the business travel industry sentiment continues to waver, yet, indicators show companies and their corporate travel managers may be looking at new focus areas and ways of working for their business travel program. This was indicated in the latest poll from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), its 23rd in a series tracking the pulse of GBTA’s membership of global travel buyers, suppliers and other stakeholders on how the business travel industry overall is navigating the return to travel, post pandemic.

Expressing her optimism for future in a press release, Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA, said, “It’s not a surprise that for a second consecutive month, travel industry buyers and suppliers continue to report ongoing caution around variants and travel restrictions as key factors impacting what would otherwise be a more accelerated return to business travel. The recent news regarding the opening up of the U.S. to U.K. and E.U. business travelers will hopefully alleviate some of the concerns and give a needed boost to the business travel ecosystem through year-end. Additionally, we’re seeing early signs of new ways of thinking coming to corporate travel programs including the importance of closer collaboration with corporate travel managers and travel management companies.”

According to the poll, while international business travel remains stalled, domestic stays consistent. In line with August poll results, respondents in September reported that non-essential domestic business travel (61 percent) is more frequently allowed than non-essential international business travel (34 percent). Additionally, the Delta and other COVID-19 variants continue to delay the resumption of non-essential domestic and international business travel. Of the GBTA buyer members and contacts whose companies “never” or “rarely” allow non-essential business travel, eight among 10 reported that their company is likely to delay the resumption of non-essential domestic (81 percent) and international (80 percent) business travel due to the Delta and other COVID-19 variants.

Consistent across the past three months, GBTA buyers felt that their employees were “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business in the current environment, as reported by 68 percent in the September poll. One in five (22 percent) travel supplier and travel management company respondents reported that they felt more optimistic compared to a month ago, versus 15 percent in the August poll. However, one in four (27 percent) said that they felt more pessimistic about the industry’s path to recovery, compared to 39 percent in the August poll. Almost half (51 percent) said they felt the same.

Most companies reported they do not require COVID-19 tests before or after employees travel for business, to attend a meeting or event, or return to the office, regardless of the employee’s vaccination status. In the U.S., a large chunk (73 percent) of the respondents reported not requiring testing. In Europe, 67 percent do not require testing and in Canada, 39 percent do not require testing, although it’s important to factor in national healthcare policies versus company policies when considering testing requirements in various countries. Of those who noted that their company requires COVID-19 tests, most (60 percent) said their company fully pays or reimburses for the cost.

Consistent with August findings, few respondents said that their company has introduced new restrictions on non-essential business travel due to the Delta and other COVID-19 variants. Half (51 percent) reported that their company is unlikely to introduce new restrictions, and only one in four (23 percent) reported that their company has introduced new restrictions.

In September, six in 10 travel (66 percent) reported that owing to the pandemic, their roles as buyers and procurement professionals at companies has changed “slightly” to “a lot.” This includes collaborating more closely with other departments (71 percent) such as Human Resources, Finance, Legal, Risk Management or other teams; elevating duty of care as a higher priority in the company (70 percent); developing new approaches or revisions to current corporate travel guidelines (69 percent); serving on new cross-department committees or task forces (44 percent); and incorporating or prioritizing more sustainability policies in the company’s travel program (40 percent). When it came to sustainability policies, respondents based in Europe (55 percent) were more likely than in North America (35 percent) to say this focus is now more part of their role than before the pandemic.

Among travel buyers and procurement professionals, many reported that they spend “more” or “much more” time than before the pandemic collaborating with other company stakeholders, particularly Security/Risk Management (66 percent), Human Resources (51 percent) and Senior Management/C-suite (46 percent).

Even with business travel down from years prior due to COVID-19, more than one-third (37 percent) of travel buyers and procurement professionals said that they are “more” or “much more” reliant now on their travel management company (TMC) than they were before the pandemic.

Two in five (41 percent) GBTA members and stakeholders reported that their company has re-evaluated the return on investment for business travel in terms of its importance and value. Among those who reported that their company is currently re-evaluating, top areas include increased emphasis on traveler wellbeing and safety (56 percent); increased use of hybrid meetings—combined in-person and virtual—(52 percent); reduced travel for internal collaboration meetings (49 percent); and reduction in overall travel costs (48 percent).

Source: GBTA

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