Throwback to the 60's?
Recovery for business travel will be an uphill struggle initially. In the short-term it may even go back to the days of business travel when it was primarily for executives, and the privileged. Not dissimilar to what is was like in the 1960’s.
Or Fast-Track to the Future?
Or will the sector face a gradual return with new standards and protocols for a safe and responsible road to recovery?
If confidence is going to be restored, digital technology and automation must be embraced by airport authorities, airlines, ground transport and the hospitality industry. The business trip must be as touchless as possible to replace the old habits and to facilitate the new ones.
What the "new normal" really means is innovation can no longer be a dubious "value-add". Transformation of the old ways is now the biggest challenge ever faced by the business travel sector - it's also the biggest opportunity for those that rise to it.
A new initiative in sanitisation came recently from Delta, when they announced the introduction of a cleaning process for all aircraft, known as “fogging”. This involves spraying high-grade disinfectant that is effective against communicable diseases. Their plan is to fog planes before every flight by early May; disinfecting high-touch areas like tray tables, armrests and entry seat-back pockets before every flight.
This is a very positive initiative and critically will make the business traveller feel more confident about flying, once they are comfortable with the safety and sanitisation measures in place. This practice is already becoming "infectious", as more major airlines promote safety first measures.
Travellers will also need to feel comfortable and safe in and around the airport, through security and on crowded aircraft. Many airports and airlines are now introducing new measures that will help to encourage demand, including: biometric boarding, no cabin bags, no lounges, limited inflight services, face masks, surgical gloves, self-check-in, self-bag-drop-off, immunity passports, on-the-spot blood tests and sanitation disinfection tunnels (travel bubbles).
Comfort and Space
The hospitality industry will also need to satisfy corporations and their travellers that their hotels are safe spaces to stay, particular those that are risk-averse. This will involve implementation and communication of novel practices to convince guests that surfaces, door handles, phones and toilet seats are clean and free from any virus.
This month, major brands, associations and destinations announced Hotel Cleaning Standards focused on enhanced cleaning practices, social interactions, and workplace protocols to meet the new health and safety challenges and expectations.
One example is Hilton who announced Hilton Cleanstay, in collaboration with RB, maker of Lysol and Dettol and, in consultation with Mayo clinic. They have elevated existing practices to help their guests from check-in to check-out.
Putting the safety of the traveller front and centre
Corporations and their business travellers will need answers to a myriad of questions before embarking on a flight. One of the first will be "what's changed that will persuade me it's safe to fly?" Corporations will need reassurances in terms of how airlines plan to keep their employees safe. There has been a lot of press regarding cleaning and service procedures and the measures being taken, but travellers will need access to specific protocols implemented by each airline.
ATPCO, the airline content and data distributor are addressing post-COVID concerns by publishing Reassurance UPAs, created by nearly 90 airlines. This targeted content will advise them of airline protocols at the point of sale, and available free via as many distribution channels as possible.
Navigating Through the Maze
Business Travel Professionals will play a pivotal role in the "new normal" for travel management. They will support clients and their travellers through the maze of uncertainty and risk.
The Account Manager's role will be defined by the very technologies that everyone has become accustomed to during the lockdown - virtual meetings, online presentations, collaboration tools and webinars. Using these digital tools, their focus will now be translating the new landscape to their clients, as well as being operationally aware and sensitive to the dynamics of where their travel program was before the pandemic and after. They will help clients to review and update travel policies, legal and moral obligations, duty of care, cost control, forecasting trends and most importantly, managing risk.
The Travel Consultant has a key role to play delivering safe travel services to the business traveller, using the latest technology and automation. Their knowledge of client and travel patterns are particularly crucial – as they expertly weave their way around the maze of various country restrictions, additional medical or entry requirements, as well as the new measures implemented by different airlines, airports and hotel brands.