The pandemic crushed business travel for more than a year, but new information reveals road warriors are returning to the skies, roads and rails for business and sales meetings. Experts predicted business travel would return by fall, but a recent Global Rescue survey found more than half of business travelers (61 percent) have already taken their first multiday domestic business trip.
Business travel is returning due to climbing COVID-19 vaccination levels and the gradual reduction in government quarantine and testing requirements. Nevertheless, post-pandemic travel barriers linger, especially when it comes to international business travel.
According to the survey, which polled more than 1,700 of Global Rescue’s current and former members between July 27-31, 2021, 17 percent of business travelers have already taken their first multiday international business trip of the year. A little more than a quarter (27 percent) expect to do so between now and March 2022.
Business and human resource leaders are evolving work schedules from pandemic-prompted work-from-home mandates into hybrid models with staff working remotely some days and from the office on other days. If the pandemic demonstrated anything about remote working, it is that productive work can be done from almost anywhere, and people are going to take advantage of that.
The survey results mirror that expectation. More than half of respondents (54 percent) who travel for business reported that their company is using, or going to use, a hybrid model of work on and off site. But most of the business travelers surveyed (61 percent) said that a hybrid work model will not reduce their business travel despite the availability of online conferencing apps like Zoom, Webex by Cisco and Microsoft Teams.
The reason is simple. Not all types of work are as effective if key employees are working remotely from their internal and external counterparts. More than 90 percent of business travelers surveyed said in-person business and sales meetings are “without a doubt” or “generally” more successful than video conferencing. Fewer than 9 percent said video conferencing was more successful than in-person business and sales meetings.
While video conferencing will likely reduce total business travel volume in the near term there is no substitute for being in the same room with others. According to the survey, video conferencing will have a mixed impact on business travelers.
Thirty-five percent of business travelers said they expect video conferencing to replace about half of routine business travel in the future. Another 27 percent said they expect to use video conferencing sparingly and return to routine business travel for in-person business and sales meetings as the pandemic health threat abates. Sixteen percent said they believe video conferencing will replace most of the business travel for in-person business meetings and sales meetings. More than a fifth (21 percent) said they don’t use video conferencing in their business.
The biggest concerns about future work-related travel among business travelers are being quarantined, being infected with coronavirus, borders closing, poor medical infrastructure at their destinations and insufficient emergency response by their company to help during a medical or security emergency.
Never have business leaders been more aware and more concerned, about travel risk management and the duty of care they have to their traveling employees. Today, the risk profile for business travel is different, and business traveler awareness is at an all-time high.
Mitigating those risks falls to an organization’s chief security officer, travel manager and human resources director, who are accountable for the development and oversight of policies, programs and logistics that protect traveling staff. Employees turn to them to do everything possible to keep them as safe as possible. CEOs rely on them, too, because they carry a duty-of-care responsibility to their people, to take care of them and to avoid exposing them to any unnecessary or undue risk.
Dan Richards is the CEO of Global Rescue, the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services. He currently serves on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce and is a global member of the World Travel and Tourism Council.