The shape of travel

As travel recovers, BCD Travel sees patterns emerging among clients.

Business travelers are getting back in the air and on the road – and clear patterns are emerging as they do. Among BCD Travel clients, travel’s recovery is being shaped by duty of care concerns, managing kinks in the supply chain, and finding ways to navigate changing COVID-19 protocols and restrictions at global and local levels. “There’s no blueprint for when and how these patterns will shift,” said BCD’s Kjarsten Philipsen, Senior Vice President Regional, “but TMCs must refit their programs with protocols and solutions to increase travelers’ confidence and lead companies back to business safely.”

Traveler safety and wellness

Duty of care and COVID-19 infection levels remain key considerations as business travelers ponder stay or go. Last year, business travelers gamely defaulted to virtual meetings and on-screen interactions to stay safe while they kept business going. This summer, a  BCD survey of 783 travelers revealed they’re ready now to log off screens and check in for trips and face-to-face meetings – but only if they and their companies feel it’s safe enough for them to do so.

When trips are greenlighted, Philipsen said, business travelers who have grown unused to travel can benefit from travel manager guidance on trip preparation, traveler wellness and risk mitigation. “Travelers need to be kept up to date on quarantine rules, travel restrictions and other mandates. Travel teams and travelers need to plan how to satisfy those suppliers requiring demonstrated proof of negative COVID test results or vaccination status. A travel policy that considers these factors is far more equipped to support companies and their travelers.”

Rentals and rail

Kjarsten Philipsen, Senior Vice President Regional at BCD Travel
Kjarsten Philipsen, Senior Vice President Regional at BCD Travel

Another pattern taking shape? Business travelers are more willing to take rental cars or personal vehicles for routes they’d normally fly. Says Philipsen, “If you’ve tried renting a car lately, then you’ve seen that cars are sometimes scarce, and prices are rising. You may even be in a market where inventory is more readily available away from the airport. This growing demand presents challenges but also opportunities. Travel managers can use the increased volumes to negotiate with rental car suppliers.”

While rates may be negotiable, duty of care and health and wellness are not. When planning for car rental strategies, travel managers should consider the question, “What do travelers need to feel safe?” From there, they can develop processes to verify rental car safety protocols for every trip.

Rail travel is also growing, too, powered by an ongoing focus on sustainability from both environmental and duty of care perspectives. Sustainability is a top priority for everyone – and rail is considered the “greenest” way to travel. For business travelers, rail presents chances for easier social distancing, quiet cabins with fewer disruptions, and increased productivity time. Travelers and travel managers appreciate rail’s competitive pricing and convenience in certain markets.

Emerging patterns: Top 5 post-pandemic travel concerns

Snags in the supply chain

Supply chain issues are being revealed in travel’s recovery pattern. Business travelers mention limited service, reduced supply and increased prices. Rental cars, as noted, are hard to find and may cost more. Suppliers are struggling, too, with cancelled or delayed flights. Long call hold times affect travelers and agents alike. “Suppliers are experiencing shortage of available labor while those employees who are getting called back are requiring additional training due to length of unemployment and changes in technologies, systems, and tools,” says Philipsen. The toll of scarcity falls on agents and travelers alike. They’re experiencing long call hold times and booking and information-gathering calls that don’t lead to bookings are taking much longer than they did pre-COVID.

Travel information as a service category

To address or manage concerns around these emerging patterns, travel managers must communicate real-time information to travelers at each stage of their journeys. “When we’re talking about emerging patterns, we really can’t overlook travel information as a service category,” said Philipsen. “An informed traveler is a confident traveler, and we’ll need both for this new future of travel.”

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