As business travel came to a standstill in early 2020, many frequent business travelers put their well-used suitcases in the loft and tucked away their passports for the time being. While the level of readiness to return to business travel varies throughout the world, businesses and their employees are now thinking about what the “new normal” will look like once they receive the green light to hit the road again.

The return of business travel is a necessity, as it is so important to helping the economic recovery. When business travel is used efficiently, it can help organizations to build relationships and sign deals that help to keep the economy moving. Recent research from Harvard Growth Lab found a direct link between a country’s incoming business travel and the growth of new and existing industries.

Business travelers understand this and of the 500 surveyed by SAP Concur, 91 percent expect their company to experience negative outcomes due to restricted travel, including a reduced number of deals or contracts signed that require in-person interactions (47 percent) and declines in new business wins that require in-person sales meetings (39 percent).

Health and safety must be top of mind

While the data suggests travel will continue to play an irreplaceable role in meeting critical business demands, it also shows that health and safety are top-of-mind among employees. The survey reveals that ensuring their health and safety while traveling is most important to business travelers, with 65 percent placing it in their top three considerations. Top concerns about returning to business travel also include infecting their families (65 percent) and getting sick themselves (56 percent).

These concerns could be contributing to employees’ stress during the trip. Forty-five percent of business travelers said they find the actual trip the most stressful stage, a 50 percent increase from last year. Twenty-six percent find pre-trip activities such as planning, booking and organizing their trip to be the most stressful, while 29 percent find post-trip activities such as filing expense reports and monitoring their health after returning home to be the most stressful. Additionally, business travelers hold themselves most accountable to protect their health and safety once travel starts again (36 percent). However, they also are looking to their employer to protect their health and safety (18 percent).

And if companies fail to adapt, most employees are not afraid to act. In the UK, 75 percent of business travelers intend to take some degree of action if their employer does not implement new measures as they return to business travel. This includes asking to limit or reduce travel in their current position (50 percent) or looking for a new role inside or outside the company that does not require travel if measures aren’t implemented (24 percent).

This leads to the question – Are travel managers prepared to meet business travelers’ expectations in light of the fluid state of business and travel during these unprecedented times? The SAP Concur survey found that among travel manager respondents, 96 percent reported that their company was not fully prepared to manage evolving travel demands during the outbreak. What were the biggest pain points experienced?

  • Handling the volume of canceled reservations (44 percent)
  • Processing the volume of refunds, receipts, and unused tickets (43 percent)
  • Determining if it is safe to travel in the absence of government guidelines (40 percent)

Using technology to increase confidence

Technology will definitely play a key role in restarting business travel by helping increase traveler confidence. Those surveyed stated that the following mobile features will be most important: mobile check-in (48 percent), mobile safety information (46 percent), and the ability to view and manage a trip itinerary on mobile (34 percent).

This mobile technology will help to ensure that travelers can get up-to-date information quickly, letting them know the latest developments and ensuring they are taking the necessary steps to remain safe. It’s vital for travel managers to know where employees are during business trips so they can communicate with them should an incident occur. An integrated technology solution that provides up-to-date business traveler data and the ability to reach out to employees in the event of an emergency offers peace of mind to both the business traveler and the travel manager.

Real time data is also key to ensuring traveler safety. In an emergency, and with continuously changing quarantine measures, it is important to know where employees. Manual and outdated processes mean lost time looking through paperwork to find a traveler’s details. Modern technology can pinpoint employee locations, presenting them on an easy-to-view, data-driven map. It is also possible to capture both travel plans and changes, so help can be provided if necessary. re best placed to help when needed.  If you don’t have information about where your employees are and how they got there, you haven’t got a hope of being able to help them.

It is also possible to use touchless technology to help travelers minimize their contact with surfaces as they travel. Voice assistants such as Siri can be used to respond with the most relevant details at any point in an itinerary—whether that’s a flight, hotel, road trip pit-stop, or other plans. This is a simple but effective way of removing unnecessary dangers and can massively reduce the risk of virus transmission.

Increasing health and safety measures

Travel managers need to look into ways they can implement mandatory personal health screenings before and after travel for employees. In fact, 39 percent of business travelers believe this is an important measure companies should take. This can help ease business travelers’ concerns about infecting others and being infected themselves in the course of travel. In addition, 33 percent of business travelers want easier access to PPEs like gloves or facemasks and expect their company to provide them with this equipment.

While these tips won’t fully solve for all business travel challenges, they can help alleviate some of the concerns employees have when it comes to returning to travel and help businesses adapt, stabilize, and reimagine business travel in the new normal.

Darryl McGarvey, Director of Channel Development, SAP Concur

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