Getting Back to the Future

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
Contributed by Jeff Berk, CEO, Tripkicks

While visionaries like Bill Gates and Brian Chesky debate on what business travel will look like once it does return, and how soon it will come back, everyone agrees that it will be different.  For business travelers (I’ll include former, current, and future travelers in that group), the “new normal” will be in a state of transition for several months – and even years, before we get to the true future.  Let’s examine a few trends that business travelers can expect to see in both the near-term and future:

  1. More internal travel, but less frequently.

As organizations continue to allow more permanent “WFH” policies, it will inevitably lead to more “WFA” or Work From Anywhere policies, like the recent Spotify announcement.  But, while technology has enabled effective remote collaboration, it has also taught us the challenges of replacing all face-to-face interactions.  It will still be important for companies with a remote workforce to have routine in-person meetings where colleagues have the opportunity to build and strengthen their relationships.  With fewer people needing to live in the immediate area surrounding the office, more will need to travel there.  This is what Chesky referred to as the “hub and spoke model”.  So, while there may be a higher bar set for ad-hoc internal trips, more people will be traveling to HQ for these routine meetings.

  1. Business travelers AND their employers will determine what is safe.

Safety is the critical priority for travelers returning to the road.  Companies have an obligation to provide resources to ensure safety and help better prepare employees for a trip.  Providing companies with these tools have been the key focus for our team at Tripkicks.  However, the true decision to travel is still an individual one, since all of us have different personal situations and risk tolerances.  For the foreseeable future, business travel will be both a company and individual decision.

  1. Trips will be shorter and then longer.

As more former road warriors are approved to travel, they are returning to a different road.  Our interim environment is one of closures, restrictions, and new complexities, which remove some of the enjoyable aspects of business travel – like new cultures, sites, cuisines or, put simply, new experiences.  In the immediate future, expect travelers to minimize the amount of time spent away from home.  When we do start to see more normalcy, travelers will be subject to a higher threshold for trip approval, which means they may need to combine multiple meetings into a single trip, adding to the trip duration.

  1. Price will be more of a concern at the company level, but less so for individuals.

CFOs like those at Amazon are enjoying P&Ls with significantly reduced travel expenses.  Expect continued pressure on budgets and trip frequency, well into the post-pandemic world.  While companies will expect the overall travel volume, and aggregate expense on travel to be lower than 2019, the increased awareness and focus on safety and general wellness and comfort may lead to more relaxed policy guidelines on an individual trip.

As more of us return to business travel, we can and should expect an increased level of attention and support from employers.  We can also expect change – lots of change!  Despite the “pause” of business travel, the industry continues to move forward, with more evolved policies, and advancements in technology to meet rising traveler expectations.  The future will be different, and it’s starting to take shape all around us.