Business travel in 2021 in limbo

We have entered 2021 pretty much the way that we had hoped we would not, still facing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic – and a new strain just to make matters worse. Even eternal optimists like me find it difficult to be positive when every time you get to your feet you are knocked down again.

One thing I have learned however is that no amount of waves will prevent nature from eventually quelling the storm and restoring calm to limpid blue waters. I have also learned that when caught in a current is better to float than to swim against it.

Don’t panic – comply and move forward step by step.

There is never any point in panicking or throwing one’s arms up in surrender. Neither is conducive to restoring an industry that may be wounded but is certainly not dying. An insightful travel report that I read which interviewed many of the top travel industry leaders seems to agree.

Whilst we remain in a certain state of limbo, we can all take cognisance of what will assist the industry to recover more rapidly and start taking action towards that goal. The main take-outs from the document were interesting so let’s review them…

Keeping business travel on course for revival

Health and Safety – As I’ve alluded to many times in past articles this is a key factor going forward and Business Travel Agencies (BTAs) will need to meet the stringent needs of both individuals and some pretty strict corporate demands to keep employees safe.

Survival – The survival of BTAs is dependent on maintaining very tight budgets with controlled spending concentrated on key areas of recovery. They need to improve operational efficiency and ensure that their cash flow remains fluid. This is not a time to run short of cash or be borrowing!

New and enhanced services – Some of that specifically allocated spending needs to be aimed at what Amadeus refer to as “increased demand for a broader range of content, in addition to personalization and end-to-end trip servicing.” This will speed up self-service and digitalisation.

End to end traveller experience and technology – This end to end service will be vital and can be achieved through more traveller focused service. Many BTA’s see technology as a key factor to both this delivery of differentiated service and improving operational efficiency.

Collaboration is critical – Just like the pandemic has called for not only nations but the whole world to stand together to fight it – this is not a time for petty rivalry between BTAs. It is a time when collaboration and alliances will reinforce and hopefully abbreviate our efforts to overcome this challenge. 

So when will recovery be? 

Ah – the 64 million dollar question. Well, we can only go on estimates of course but the opinion of those interviewed in the report is that travel as a whole will only return to normal in 2022, or possibly even 2023 and beyond. Of these, most believe Leisure travel (in particular domestic travel) will be first and business travel will follow. 

When in limbo – float

As I alluded to earlier, rather than swim against this current let’s simply remain focussed on making these key factors a reality as soon as we can. Let’s improve domestic travel while it is our main income stream and make it as good as it can be.

Maybe it will be a good thing if local travel, as a result of this setback, is boosted so that it in turn boosts our local economy in the future. Maybe we will even produce a far better business travel model as a result of getting all our compliance ‘ducks in a row!’

There I go again – getting optimistic – seeing the rainbow after the storm and the light at the end of the tunnel – well, it certainly beats just lying down or burying your head in the sand.

As history has shown us, this too shall pass, so even in a state of limbo – we will never be without hope! Have a spectacular – and safe 2021.

LIDIA FOLLI

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

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