There is no doubt that corporate travel took a big hit during the pandemic. However, we are once again seeing signs of growth. However, we doubt that corporate travel will ever return to pre-pandemic levels. The shift toward remote workers is expected to affect the return of internal meetings, client visits, and even conferences. Businesses and travel providers alike will need to pivot to function in the new normal.
A Slow Return
Corporate travel has been a much slower return than leisure travel. The first half of 2021 has seen a slow uptick in business travel largely attributed to the vaccine rollout and the CDC indicating that travel is safe for vaccinated people. However, corporate travel has many more concerns than leisure travelers including discomfort with traveling, clients’ discomfort with in-person interactions and other factors such as the continued delays or cancellation of events, higher airfares and hotel room rates.
Why The Slow Rreturn?
Because conferences and trade shows, which account for a significant volume of business trips, remain mostly virtual and many offices remain pared down in staff – corporate travel has remained stalled. Companies are still sensitive to asking employees to travel for work. On the other side, many of their clients have yet to reopen doors to visitors. While we expect these conditions to be temporary, conferences and events have begun a comeback in both live and hybrid versions. Many workers returned to their offices during the summer and even more will do so now that summer has ended. You might call it the longest summer vacation ever. As these events return, we expect a gradual uptick in corporate travel will follow. Many corporate travelers have learned to do their job without traveling. However, the value of face-to-face interaction cannot be discounted despite the fact employees have convinced themselves that they can perform effectively with significantly less travel.
While the roll-out of vaccines has helped ease the fears of traveling, it creates a new concern for corporate travelers. Will vaccine records be interoperable and accepted across different carriers and ports of entry? Several airlines and nations have adopted their own protocols. Yet, there is currently no standard. Interoperable digital health passports can eliminate the need for quarantine on arrival in foreign countries.
Conferences and events will continue to evolve as organizers work to create safe, workable in-person interactions while continuing to embrace technology that enables virtual participation. Nine out of 10 companies surveyed expect to be at or above 75% of their previous travel levels by the end of 2021. By the end of 2022, US corporate travel will level out to a new normal and that level is likely to remain consistent for several years at about 80% of pre-pandemic travel. Many companies will likely seek to hold onto the cost savings the pandemic travel brought. The embracement of tech platforms for meetings and collaborations will curtail the need for many trips and these platforms will continue to evolve to become even better at the service they provide that travel used to fulfill. For more than a year, Zoom, Go-To-Meetings, Google and other technology platforms have taken the place of flights, hotels, and board rooms. The inability to get together face-to-face was a huge challenge. As we emerge from the pandemic and corporate travelers calm their first-trip jitters, industry events resume in-person, business leaders and their corporate travelers will be faced with deciding whether to get on a plane or just get online.