Is Business Travel Over For Good?

Nathan Allen

by Nathan Allen

4 min read
Is Business Travel Over For Good?
Travel Future of Work Managing Teams

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically curtailed travel—and business travel has experienced a major impact. Work travel is a $1.5 trillion industry. That’s right, trillion, with a “t.” One group says the industry lost $518 billion between March and July 2020. Delta Airlines executives have predicted business travel might not ever return to prepandemic levels.

A portion of business travel will eventually return. Some already has. To help get a sense of what that might look like, we’ve scoured the internet and put together a guide on how business travel might change in a postpandemic world and remote work’s role in that shift.

At Least a Portion of Business Travel Will Never Return

Leisure and business travel won’t completely die, but some of it might never return, and virtually all of it will be changed, says a Forbes article, which covered a report from IdeaWorks, a research consulting company in the travel industry. The report—and article—highlight eight travel-industry changes that the coronavirus pandemic has caused. Business travel’s recovery is one of the eight trends.

The upshot is that most business travel will return, although it could be years before it gets back to prepandemic levels. However, two factors will cause some aspects of business travel never to return to “normal.” First, not all companies will survive the pandemic’s economic fallout. Second, not all companies will continue to send employees to off-site meetings, thanks to advancements in teleconferencing technology—and increasing comfort with it.

Cleanliness Is a Must

While some frequent business travelers might be experiencing some pent-up flying fervor, most will still be hesitant to pack into a plane with a bunch of strangers, says a Condé Nast Traveler article. A greater emphasis on cleanliness and sanitation will be one of the biggest changes in future business travel. Airlines and hotels that do the best job of sanitizing will be the winners. Companies also need to be ready for the potential of shelling out big bucks to house employees in hotels for 14-day quarantine periods, if they are exposed to COVID-19 while at an off-site meeting or event.

Some Meetings Are Essential, but Many White-Collar Workers Dig Teleconferencing

Let’s say it’s 2022. The coronavirus pandemic has ended. Travel is safe again. But new habits have formed: Many white-collar workers actually enjoy working from home and prefer to teleconference for most meetings. That’s the prediction, among others, of an opinion piece from the New York Times. Technologies like Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts has made it easy to tackle most meetings from the living room. In-person meetings won’t go away entirely, the editorial predicts, but many workers—especially those caring for young children or elderly adults—have realized they like the added time and flexibility that comes with ditching the office, commute, and in-person meetings.

Make Sure Your Company Has a Plan

Whether you’re the one deciding who travels or the one traveling, you need to have a plan, says a Fast Company article. Companies need to create clear policy that defines essential and nonessential travel. In addition, companies should provide clear procedures for safe airline travel, as well as for on-site meetings. Safety guidelines for lodging options are also a must, the piece says.

Waiting for International Travel (Hint: Don’t Hold Your Breath)

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A big holdup in business travel’s returning to prepandemic levels will likely be international travel, a New York Times article predicts. While domestic business and leisure travel have slowly started to return, it could take years before that happens with international business travel, which is currently mostly halted. As coronavirus resurges in the United States and other countries ban entry by US travelers, a return to usual international business travel could be delayed for quite a while.

Immunity Passports, Anyone?

Inc. projects that one major change for business travelers may be the need to carry an “immunity passport,” which is exactly what it sounds like—a document that shows a passenger has had COVID-19 and has recovered from it. This concept comes with some obvious limitations. For one, the vast majority of the global population hasn’t contracted COVID-19, which would limit who could fly, and where. In addition, we’re still unsure exactly how COVID-19 immunity works, assuming it does. We won’t know for quite some time the probability of people's catching the virus more than once. What’s more likely, the article states, is a screening process to show that fliers are not currently infected.

Contact Tracing Apps

Contact tracing mobile applications could play a big role in reviving business and leisure travel, says a Bloomberg Law article. These apps could be the future of travel, so be prepared to need one while jet-setting.

A Big Benefit of Less Business Travel?

Who will benefit the most from fewer business travelers and thus fewer planes in the air? Mother Earth. GreenBiz takes a look at the potential environmental impacts of less frequent business travel. Citing Environmental Protection Agency data GreenBiz says that transportation accounts for more greenhouse emissions than anything else in the United States. While the airline industry is responsible for only about 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions, GreenBiz cites a study indication that aviation could account for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.

There it is. Despite what the Delta Airlines execs predicted, business travel will exist again, in some form. It almost assuredly won’t be the version we all knew in 2019 and before, but that might not be a bad thing.

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