Of all the aspects of company operations that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, business travel may take the cake.
Employees’ flights were canceled or postponed. Hotel fees stopped trickling in. Even important client dinners were put on hold.
It all felt very sudden at first. And over the course of the last year, things have ebbed and flowed as coronavirus cases dipped and spiked, and states and agencies changed their regulations. Now, albeit slowly, it seems companies are planning for and inching toward the open road again.
Though CFOs know business travel will return with full force eventually and T&E costs will become a bigger budgetary priority again, things will be different. And knowing what to expect is essential.
Here’s what your finance department and road warriors can anticipate for business travel after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Avi Meir, CEO of TravelPerk:
1. Sporadic recovery
States and countries have differing lockdown measures for COVID-19, healthcare systems and more, so you know business travel won’t bounce back all at once.
It’ll be important for travelers and their managers to know the requirements of any place they’re venturing to. Your finance team will also need to keep an eye on travelers’ requests to make sure they’re realistic and compliant.
2. Trains utilized more
Domestic travel will recover first, Meir says. And trains, which are less crowded and more eco-friendly, will be the most viable mode initially. As a result, you may see an uptick in these types of ground transportation costs from travelers.
Since some travelers haven’t used this mode of travel frequently before (perhaps they opted for the quicker, easier flight), it could help for Finance to go over cost-effective spending strategies and for HR to cover any additional safety and health measures.
3. Irregular periods of travel
Some researchers predict that governments will flip lockdown measures on and off to keep demands on healthcare systems at a good level, Meir explains. You’ve probably seen this firsthand in the past year, as certain locations locked down, opened up, then locked down again.
What it means for companies: There could be windows during COVID-19 of business travel opportunity that last for only a few days or weeks. And since airline seating will likely be limited, you can expect these flight prices to be higher than what you’re used to seeing. For CFOs, that makes it even more important to ensure any quickly planned, more expensive trips are really worth the cost.
4. ‘Necessary’ travel will be stricter
At least at first, it’s safe to say employees will need a really good reason to hit the road. Trips will have to be validated as an “economic activity,” and some companies may limit the number of people traveling.
As your company tackles the challenge of who gets to go where, be sure to focus on the why. Is it a top client? Are the costs manageable? Is the location safer for business travel in terms of COVID-19 exposure? Communicating the reasoning and justification behind your decisions to approve or deny employees’ travel requests will help them understand the bigger picture and deter confusion.