I guess the short answer to this rather complex question is that our biggest challenge will be simply to try to return to “normal” as quickly as possible. This is going to be an arduous task, not easily dealt with, but one that with perseverance and determination we can achieve.
There are mountains to climb, not because these challenges are unachievable, but simply because they will come rigidly entrenched by the memory and fear of the pandemic – regulations that may haunt us for many years to come.
A whole new travel world
In essence, things will probably never be the same again post COVID-19, but regardless, we must deal with whatever it takes to get us back on track, and surprisingly many of these changes could well be for the good of travel in the long term. So, let’s look at few….
Travel management will override open booking
Many businesses already have travel managed programmes where cost containment was the primary driver, followed by duty of care, thereafter many other corporate travel policies bespoke to the corporate followed. I forsee the order of priority changing, the necessity, mode and destinations of travel will all become factors (only essential travel will be permitted) which will fall on the shoulders of the TMCs to handle as part of the travel managed packages that will, for the most part, override open booking. I also forsee that the current business model will change to not only associating fees with an outcome of a product being issued, the professional services addressing risks will become just that, forming a critical part of our business model moving forward.
Managing travel risk and incorporating duty care technology
As one observer put it “The moral and legal liabilities of not informing and safeguarding their employees will be so high post COVID-19, that we will see significant changes to corporate travel policies.”
Travel risks, especially those including health policies when travelling, will be extensive to the point of probably requiring travel tracking technology. Employees will be required to restrict movement to the mode of travel only, remaining in the hotel room and taking room service etc. TMCs will be called upon to oversee this, and it will become part of travel risk and duty care management.
Documentation – the paper trail nightmare
If TMCs were bogged down by documentation pre-COVID —19, be prepared to encounter a tidal wave of compliance when it comes to business travel of the future. These will include:
Travel document/visa compliance
These will include the documentation that all the various countries will require to permit travel to and in their countries. Essentially the two types of documentation required will be visas & arrival (immigration) documents.
It will fall on the shoulders of the company (and subsequently the TMC) to supply proof of their business traveller’s health status, advanced health insurance (medical aid) coverage and the necessity to travel. Plus of course the usual visas.
Internal red tape
Prior to the business traveller even embarking on the journey, a myriad of red tape will be encountered internally to verify the necessity of travel and to inform the traveller of any risks or pitfalls involved with the travel process.
From the employee’s side, just a phone request or using a ‘Self Booking’ tool, as in the past, is not going to suffice. Companies will roll out complex travel compliance processes, to assess and approve every travel request.
Health compliance will, of course, be paramount. Every business traveller will need to prove through some documentation that they are free of the virus. Possibly through a recent test, or hopefully soon a vaccination! My concern though is that I’ve been told that these documents could be difficult for TMCs to obtain and manage, as different countries have different laws as to what employees need to divulge to their employers.
The ice is finally melting
I have no doubt that whatever we need to do, as people longing to return to normality and get back to work, we will carry it out professionally and move forward positively. There is no point in doing otherwise. Hindsight is 20/20 vision, and we can take much from what this crisis has taught us – but our focus must always be on the future.
Whenever I think of this dreaded virus, I can’t help thinking of that adorable squirrel in the ‘Ice Age’ movies, having been captured in an ice block, just waiting for the ice to melt so he can finally reach his beloved acorn. Then I’m also reminded of the lyrics of the famous Beatles song ‘Here comes the Sun’ – ‘Here comes the sun, the ice is finally melting.’
Let us embrace the challenges ahead, knowing we may just be able to look back on this one day and say – “We lived through COVID-19 – and made it to the other side – stronger than ever.”
Stay home, stay positive – and stay safe!LIDIA FOLLI
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER