How Business Travel Is Poised for a Generational Shift Once the Pandemic Passes

By: | August 27, 2020

Suzanne Sangiovese is the Operations Manager, Americas, for Riskline. She can be reached at [email protected]

Business travel after COVID-19 will be very different.

Not only will travel be subject to new restrictions and safety measures, but travelers themselves will also look different. That’s because we’re likely to see a significant shift in the demographic of people who travel for business.

But why is that? And what is the impact?

How COVID Changed the Business Travel Perception 

The huge uptick in virtual meetings as a result of the COVID-19 crisis has prompted both individuals and businesses to reconsider the need for face-to-face meetings.

Employees want — as much as possible — to hold on to some of the work-life balance they enjoyed during lockdown restrictions and may also have health and safety concerns around resuming travel.

From a business perspective, savings from the near-zero travel expenses in these months will not go unnoticed in a time when many businesses are looking to save costs and resources. Combine this with the high capability of virtual technologies to create a near-perfect remote experience, and it’s likely that the necessity of business travel will be scrutinized more closely.

A compelling — and detailed — business case will need to be put forward to justify business travel within a company.

Uninformed Travel Won’t Exist

Employees will demand a whole new level of information before and during their travel in order to feel confident enough to travel again.

Once they step onto a plane and travel internationally, businesses will need to strictly monitor the slew of new measures that will be in place — many of which have not yet even been decided — imposed by governments, corporate health & safety, travel insurance and by corporate travel policy managers.

Business travel will have to be tightly planned and controlled with duty of care a priority both for the individual and the business, and travel policies will need to adapt to ensure travel is executed well within new parameters.

The Changing Demographic 

Recent research has shown that senior business travelers in particular are keen to see a high level of health and safety practices in place before they travel again post COVID-19.

Baby Boomers (those born between 1944 and 1964) want to see more stringent travel safety protocols. Nearly 70% want to see passenger health screenings at airports, compared with less than half of Millennials, according to a survey by Destination’s Analysts.

The report also shows that 66% of boomers want to see cleaning protocols published, compared to just 48% of Millennials.

If we safely assume, then, that without safety measures in place, senior business travelers are unlikely to want to travel, then this may pose a problem for businesses. Why? Older employees tend to hold more senior roles within the business and are often among the key decision makers.

If a business decides to restrict travel to selected employees, then surely it’s the older members of staff who need to travel — to meet face-to-face and have the authority to make key decisions on the spot?

However, it’s also possible that companies will not want their older employees to travel either because of the risk they pose — there’s the potential cost impact on repatriation and health care to consider.

A company may well look to undertake a “fit for travel” health check on staff before they travel and choose to send only those who pass with a clean bill of health.

However, this process is far from straightforward; there’s a minefield of legal and privacy concerns to consider.

An employer cannot force an employee to disclose information about any health conditions, but an employer can ask about a medical condition if it’s thought that the condition might affect the employee’s ability to do their job.

Out With the Old(er Traveler), In With the New

This is where we’ll see the rise of the Millennial business traveler.

Not only are they more willing to travel, they’re also arguably more likely to pass any health tests carried out before travel as they’re within the age range that’s deemed “less affected” by COVID-19.

Before coronavirus gripped the world, Millennials were fast becoming the predominant business traveler anyway, taking an average of 7.4 trips per year (according to Skift) against the average of 6.3 trips per year by boomers.

We’re only likely to see this upward trend solidify in the months and years ahead, particularly when taking into consideration the pent-up demand to travel as a result of recent restrictions.

Millennial business travelers, many of whom have likely not yet progressed to senior positions, may also see business travel as an opportunity to demonstrate their merits and further their careers.

They’re also keen on mixing business and pleasure, often extending the corporate trip into a personal one. This may be even more so after restrictions are lifted due to sheer pent-up demand; people who love to travel have been unable to do so for an extended period.

These co-called “bleisure” travelers will still have concerns about health and safety and will likely be asking new questions around where their business insurance ends and their personal travel insurance begins.

Businesses need to be prepared and ensure they have the right information available in order to give this new breed of business traveler the detail they need to travel safely in this new world. &

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]