Many traditional road warriors, myself included, are experiencing varying levels of Zoom fatigue and have a deep desire to get back out and onto airplanes to meet with teammates, customers and others in-person. See The Economist: Some executives can’t wait to hit the road again.
Caroline Strachan of Festive Road said it the best about travel in BTN – The Path to Purposeful Travel:
“They say you don’t truly know the value of something until it’s no longer there.”
No truer words can be said about how most of us likely feel about the virtual standstill that has come about from the global COVID-19 pandemic which continues to grip the world.
It is generally accepted that we will not see a return to pre-COVID-19 travel levels until 2024 or beyond. That said, there is an expectation we will start seeing some return to traveling, at a reduced level, later in 2021. However, with the recent approvals of COVID-19 vaccines, we can hope to start seeing the rolling back of travel restrictions. But until vaccination becomes widespread and the world starts to rebound from the pandemic, there will be a number of factors which will permeate what has become the new normal of travel.
While road warriors are wanting to get back in the air, a recent survey by Travel Again uncovered that there has been a drop in traveler confidence, for getting back out on the road. Some key factors that would boost business traveler confidence in resuming travel, include mandatory mask requirements, crowding limitations, social distancing/blocking of middle seats on flights and widespread COVID-19 testing. Until traveler confidence is overwhelmingly restored, we can certainly expect to see ongoing reductions in travel.
Travel programs are likely to undergo changes where the necessity of traveling for in-person meetings are going to be weighed against its value to the organization. The global shift to allow more staff to work remotely and away from traditional office settings will likely have a profound impact on how we will travel for business, and how offices are structured. Employees who work remotely will be traveling to offices a few times a year to foster team building and collaboration that cannot always be achieved with virtual meetings. From BTN, The Path to Purposeful Travel.
Beyond changes to travel programs, we have already started to see shifts amongst those individuals who must travel in the current environment by trading air travel and taking other modes of transportation such as by car or by train in private compartments, where possible, to provide an added layer of peace of mind. See The BBC’s, Will business travel ever be the same?
Duty of care has always been an importation component of travel programs. This importance is not going away, but as with many facets of travel, is evolving. Airlines across the globe have implemented policies mandating that passengers wear masks along with severe repercussions for those who do not comply which could include banning them from travel. See The W.S.J.’s, Airlines Have Rules About Face Masks—That’s Not Always Enough.
Traveler health and well-being is a key priority in choosing suppliers and traveler loyalty go to those who prioritize health and safety. See Conde Nast Traveler’s, How COVID-19 Will Change Business Travel.
The challenges we are living through brought about by COVID-19 are by no means the first crisis that has rocked aviation and travel. This will not be the last, but as experience has shown, we will adapt to the hand we are dealt and come back stronger than we were before.