- By: Deepali Nandwani
There have been constant conversations about how severely COVID-19 has affected business travel.
Like most other travel, the disease caused by the SARS-COV-2 virus brought the buzzing business travel segment to a screeching halt. Over the last two months, as the world began to reopen, local leisure travel has somewhat seen a revival. But business travel is unlikely to see any such return as most of the world continues to work from home. The criss-crossing of the globe by people who lived out of a suitcase is a scene we are unlikely to see anything soon.
While there is quite a bit of speculation on how critically affected business travel is, a new report, The SAP Concur Business Traveller Survey 2020 captures the new normal of business travel by determining what measures are being considered as necessary by business travellers, both from themselves as well as from their employers.
The survey, conducted by Wakefield Research—a leading independent provider of quantitative, qualitative and hybrid market research—in 27 countries using a sample size of 4,850 business travellers—concluded that for business travel to provide the best return on investment, there will have to be a balance between the needs of the business and the needs of the traveller.
Quoting the survey: “Today’s business travellers want access to the latest technology to help them be both productive and safe while on the road. Technology has become an integral part of how business travellers manage each stage of their trip—and indeed their lives—but employees are feeling that the tech provided by their employer is lagging. Today’s professionals expect the flexibility to book, plan, change, file expenses or check-in for business trips through a wide variety of platforms of their own choosing, quickly and easily, so that they can go about the business of actually doing business. But often business travellers feel out of step with the home office, even on matters as urgently important as safety on the road.”
Emerging expectations around health and safety due to the current pandemic requires the travel industry to adapt, innovate and transform to usher in a ‘new normal’. Companies need to define and maintain a balance between essential travel, government regulation guidelines, as well as the travel appetite of their employees.
Nearly all business travellers surveyed expect a new normal for business travel, with new protocols and precautions to take root for good even when the restrictions put in place amid border shutdowns are lifted. Among the most commonly expected measures include mandatory personal health screenings for traveling employees, limiting business travel to only the most business-critical trips, and easier access to personal protective equipment, like gloves or face masks.
Interestingly, globally, nearly one in five highly-placed employees plan to look for a new role—inside or outside the company—that does not require travel if measures aren’t implemented. In the U.S., nearly one in four plan to look for a new role that does not require travel if changes aren’t made.
Employees will require guidance from organisations on how to stay safe when they travel. Almost 99% of Indian business travellers say company training would be beneficial, especially training on how to protect their health and safety while travelling (67%, compared to 54% globally) and how to maintain healthy habits while travelling (44%).
Organisations that are not proactively protecting employee well-being on business trips could risk consequences–44% of Indian business travellers say they would ask to limit travel if their company does not implement the measures they want, 19% would look for a position that does not require travel, and 9% would consider a position at a different company.
Major findings of the survey include:
Despite these indicators, half of business travellers surveyed (50%) say they are excited about their next trip. This excitement to return to the road is likely because most Indian business travellers (64%, compared to 44% globally) anticipate limited representation of their company at industry events, while 61% expect a reduced number of deals or contracts signed without face-to-face meetings.
- 65% of business travellers say they intend to take some degree of action, such as asking to limit or reduce travel in their current position (455), searching for a new position within their company that does not require travel (10%), or searching for a position at a different company (8%).
- The most common emotions that business travellers expect to feel during their next business trip include worry (39%), excitement (32%), anxiety (30%), and relief (24%).
- Globally, groups expected to face increased discrimination include those who visibly display cold/flu-like symptoms (59%), those from countries with greater than average infection rates (49%), and travellers of Asian descent (32%).
- The older the business traveller, the less likely they are to expect increased discrimination against certain groups (95% of Gen Z compared to 84% of Boomers).
- Among surveyed travel managers, 96% reported that their company was not fully prepared to manage evolving travel demands during the outbreak.
- Biggest pain points include handling the volume of cancelled reservations (44%); processing the volume of refunds, receipts, and unused tickets (43%); and determining if it is safe to travel in the absence of government guidelines (40%).
- Small and Medium Business enterprises’ travel managers (41%) are more likely to say their company is unprepared to provide safety guidelines to travellers than those from larger businesses (33%).
- Globally, 36% will hold themselves most accountable to protect their health and safety when they can travel, 18% will hold their employer most accountable, and 13% will hold their government most accountable.
- Ninety-six percent of respondents identified at least one measure they consider to be critical for their company to implement when travel resumes, including mandatory personal health screenings for traveling employees (39%), limiting business travel to only the most business-critical trips (39%), and easier access to personal protective equipment like gloves or facemasks (33%).
SAP® Concur® is the world’s leading brand for integrated travel, expense, and invoice management solutions. The SAP Concur mobile app guides employees through every trip, charges are effortlessly populated into expense reports, and invoice approvals are automated, by integrating near real-time data and using AI to audit 100% of transactions.