As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout progresses and global economies reopen, business travel is starting to rebound.
Travel managers across all geographies and sectors are understandably keen to reignite their travel programs and get their company back on the road. However, before diving in with both feet, they are rightly stopping, taking a step back, and reviewing their business travel strategies against what is now a vastly different landscape.
Pre-pandemic, "employee confidence" rarely featured on the list of travel manager concerns. Today it is one of their most important and most pressing. An Expedia survey found that 37% of travellers felt "concerned" by the idea of traveling for work.
Their nervousness is based on a range of criteria including hygiene, safety and changing in-country guidance and restrictions. So what are the most important steps that travel managers can take to help their employees feel confident while traveling for business again?
Clear, unambiguous guidance
Travel managers are diligently working through a long list of difficult questions as they plan their return to travel.
Which trips are justified in light of the ongoing pandemic? Which groups of employees should travel? What extra precautions do they need to take? Which countries will we travel to and which should we avoid?
Consultancy Festive Road recently launched its excellent Permissive and Purposeful Travel Frameworks to help guide travel managers in their decision-making.
While making the right choices here is obviously critical, it is arguably even more important to ensure that they come together in a clear set of guidelines for the rest of the organization.
Ambiguity and confusion create anxiety and worry, and this will have a detrimental effect on your employees’ willingness to travel.
Guidelines must be consistent, effectively communicated and frequently repeated. For example, in the months ahead it will be critical for organizations to agree, share and regularly update a tightly defined set of destinations that employees are permitted to visit, as well as configuring their booking tool to keep travelers inside those guardrails.
The rationale behind the decisions the company is making must also be clearly and transparently articulated.
Why can one office travel while another is grounded? Why are we willing to risk the health of the sales team but not marketing?
Data can play a critical role here. For example, gathering and sharing data from your technology partner that show how, who and where employees in peer companies are returning to travel is an effective way of reducing friction and boosting confidence.
Knowledge is power
Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes, and a key part of building confidence in your travelers is arming them with accurate, timely information about all aspects of their upcoming trip.
In the last 12 months a series of technology-powered solutions to this problem have emerged, enabling travel managers and their employees to access travel information in real-time in their booking pathway and stay abreast of shifting in-country restrictions.
Leveraging information through tools will reduce stress and build confidence by eliminating uncertainty and centralizing all relevant information in a single source of truth for the organization and employee.
Flexibility is paramount
In the past, many organizations have imposed stringent restrictions on where and how their employees travel in order to keep costs under tight control. However, businesses are quickly realising that more flexibility is required to encourage employees back onto planes and back in front of their customers, partners and colleagues.
Flexibility isn’t always easy for travel managers to operationalize, but with the help of online booking tools it is possible to make policy changes that temporarily relax certain criteria.
For example, our policy data shows that a significant number of travel managers opted to allow their employees to move up a cabin class – for easier social distancing - as well as booking their tickets much closer to the scheduled date of their trip to allow for the lastminute decision-making necessitated by COVID-19.
In summary, face-to-face interaction helps accelerate business plans, improves relationships and fosters employee growth, however the pandemic has made some employees reluctant to get back on a plane.
The key to restoring confidence and getting your organization moving again is setting clear, unambiguous guidance, empowering your employees with access to real-time information and offering an unprecedented level of flexibility.