Let us face it. The world is not a safe place anymore, as it used to be. The pandemic has slowed down all economic activities to the point that, for many businesses, sustenance itself has become a challenge. Business travel has been hit badly as travel poses a significant risk factor. But today and in future, as the world slowly comes to terms with COVID and learns to live with it, what will happen to business travel? How and when will it revive? We do not know yet, but it seems that turbulence and instability will be the new normal for business travellers. Is there anything that businesses can do to make those travels safer? We think the answer is YES.
Right now, we are taking care to slowly emerge from the impact of the virus. It is particularly important to be cautious, but not overly so. We must move on, as the resumption of economic activities is crucial for survival. International travel may take more time to climb back to pre-existing levels. The solution, as suggested by several experts, lies in opening travel bubbles with appropriate safety measures.
Whatever be the measures, faultless planning is required to ensure businesses restart and thrive whilst safeguarding employee health and safety. This is a delicate balance and needs a thorough review of existing policies and processes with a lot of help from technology based solutions. Here are a few ways we can achieve this with confidence.
The term risk has a wider scope that can be narrowed down to specific risks such as the virus outbreak. Risk management and mitigation need thorough planning and implementation to be successful. In the case of the pandemic and the post-pandemic situation, risk assessment and its management involve mitigating the health and safety risks associated with the virus and will involve several steps.
All travel will have to be planned in advance and not in a hurried fashion. At least initially, it must be taken care that only essential travels are undertaken. The travel admin or manager should be in constant dialogue with the management and drive the organization culture to adhere to advance travel planning. Buy-in from travellers is also needed in this situation.
As plans for travel change, it is also vital that the company policies change in tandem. The changes should reflect the post-pandemic situation and take care of several questions such as
a) who can travel and why
b) whether the destination is inside a safety bubble stipulated by the government and travel bodies
c) whether all safety protocols are met and most importantly,
d) whether the customer is comfortable with the visit.
Budget considerations should be made in line with the potential risk associated with the specific destination. Policies must keep in mind the need for greater spend related to maintaining safety measures such as investment in technology tools and 24/7 support.
Traveller Assistance/ Support
There is a need for support round the clock in the current situation. As per a recent report, many employees are not confident about the effectiveness of support provisions, and people who are willing to risk their safety amidst the measures in place are just one-fifth of the earlier numbers. The clarity surrounding such support must be mentioned clearly in policy documents and acted upon with alacrity. Communication channels must open and active 24/7, as it is crucial for building trust among travellers. Travellers will want to be in touch with their families and other parties involved in the travel and this must be facilitated seamlessly.
Agreement with Suppliers
Businesses must be on the same page with hotels and airlines for flexible fares at normal costs, free cancellations, easy refunds and money-back guarantees. An agreement on minimal stops or hops for passengers to minimize exposure risks is more likely to be welcomed. Airlines care about business travel as it is their major source of passenger revenue. Business and airlines have a mutual need for a successful co-existence, and this must be kept in mind while entering the new phase of travel. Hotels must be responsible for the safety and hygiene of surroundings and accommodation as also with flexible pricing and cancellation policies.
Travel Finance Options
Travel insurance policies may be a good option now that disruptions and cancellations can be more frequent. Insurance is a good option and to be considered for travellers in the wake of risks to health. This also means that company budgets will have to be aligned with new expenses. Per diems may have to be revisited based on renewed spending requirements, keeping in mind the organizational hierarchy and the requirements of safety.
Support from Customers
Customer safety must be a priority. The office premises must be maintained with safety tips and health protocols are to be adhered to. Meetings are not to be unduly prolonged. Social distancing and other norms for pandemic protection must be strictly observed. Masks and other protective equipment and sanitization steps must be in place, which must be documented and shared with the visiting customers.
Leisure and Business
Employees need some time-out during these stressful times, and it may be motivating for them to visit places that are calming and near to their work locations. Ensuring that all protocols are met, this can be encouraged to raise morale levels while on a trip. If well within policy guidelines, this can be acceptable and advised.
If we must re-establish trust and continue business as it were before, some concrete steps must be taken, particularly by the businesses themselves. Technology plays a huge role in easing fears and this must be taken advantage of for regaining lost confidence. The rate at which this adaptation is accepted by businesses will determine the speed with which business travel rebounds to normalcy.
By Team Catalyca