ALEXANDRIA, Va. — As signs of recovery continue in the business-travel sector, travel-procurement professionals are prioritizing the health and safety of employees, according to a new poll released today by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).
More than half of travel buyers report their company has changed its travel policy and 70-per-cent characterize the policy changes as being ‘somewhat’ or ‘a lot.’ When asked what travel-program changes have been made due to the pandemic, instituting new rules about pre-trip approval (53 per cent); having more frequent or detailed pre-trip communications or briefings (35 per cent); collecting health information from employee travellers (i.e. virus exposure or pre-existing conditions) (24 per cent); and clarifying or changing rules about ticket credits/unused tickets (22 per cent) are cited most frequently.
Consistent guidelines and standards continue to be critically important across all verticals in the business-travel industry, however there is a need for more communication of safety protocols. While a majority of GBTA companies (68 per cent) say they have enough information on supplier cleaning and sanitation practices, 24 per cent say they would still like more. In addition, 49 per cent feel they have enough information about operational changes, such as flight re-scheduling or check-in procedures, but 37 per cent say they would like more information.
Despite the rising infection rates in some parts of the world, companies are still considering a return to travel. Half (49 per cent) are considering resuming all travel (regardless of country or region) in the near future, although do not currently have definite plans. Only 18 per cent of GBTA member companies report they do not plan to resume all travel in the near future.
Domestic and essential business travel is likely to resume first. Among respondents who report their company has cancelled at least some domestic business trips, 44-per-cent expect domestic travel to resume in the next two to three months. One in three expect domestic travel to resume in the next six to eight months (34 per cent) or are unsure (15 per cent). GBTA members in Europe (77 per cent) are more likely than members in North America (37 per cent) to expect domestic business travel to return in the next two to three months.
Among GBTA companies who have cancelled at least some international business trips, 16-per-cent expect international travel to resume in the next two to three months. Two in five expect international travel to resume in the next six to eight months (40 per cent) and one in four are unsure (25 per cent) as to when international travel will resume. GBTA companies based in Europe (33 per cent) are more likely to expect international business travel to resume in the next two to three months than members based in North America (13 per cent).
The return to travel, from a supplier perspective, follows a similar geographical divide, with more travel suppliers and travel-management companies (TMCs) in Europe reporting an increase in bookings (50 per cent) than in the U.S. (27 per cent).
“The slow recovery of business travel continues with a noticeable uplift in Europe. The U.S. recovery has remained largely static, probably in line with new COVID-19 cases that dominate our headlines, slowing progress,” says GBTA executive director, Dave Hilfman. “GBTA is continuing to support members to introduce consistent health-and-safety measures for every travel vertical, a key requirement to enable travel programs to resume. As we have seen from the poll results, buyers have had to adapt to the changing demands, significantly altering travel policy to reflect the necessary increase in health-and-safety protocols. GBTA is working with our buyer members to help navigate the new norm and road to recovery.”
When asked how COVID-19 had impacted their organizations, 81 per cent of travel suppliers have furloughed employees and 78-per-cent have reduced or laid-off staff. Half (53 per cent) of companies who have furloughed employees have returned some or all staff to work in some capacity.
Most respondents feel the business-travel industry has experienced the worst in terms of cancelled flights (73 per cent) and hotel-operations suspension (66 per cent). However, one in four believe the worst is yet to come in terms of layoffs/furloughs and revenue loss (44 per cent each).
The poll, conducted by GBTA, is the ninth poll of the membership to measure the effects of Coronavirus on business travel. The poll was fielded from July 7 to 13, 2020 and received 2,167 responses from member companies globally. Complete poll results are available here.