With borders closed and all but essential journeys banned, the business travel industry has been hit disproportionately hard by the ongoing pandemic. The industry relies unequivocally on the movement of goods and people and has been brought to its knees by renewed travel restrictions and endlessly changing lockdown policies.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, the business travel sector accounted for 21.4 percent of the global travel and hospitality sector. Spending was in excess of $41.4 trillion in 2018, with 6.6 billion trips taken to the UK alone. On short notice, the pandemic brought this global travel to a standstill. In April 2020, monthly air passenger arrivals to the UK fell by 98.3 percent compared to February of the same year. At the same time, organisations across the world pivoted to remote working in order to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. Business interactions of all kind were transformed into video-conferencing affairs, with varying degrees of success.
The question now is whether business travellers will return to the skies once the pandemic ends, or whether global business will continue to be conducted over Zoom.
Certainly, there is likely to be a reconfiguration in the way business travel is conducted going forward, but will Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts really kill off business travel altogether?
The short answer is – no.
Business travel exists for very important reasons – it helps companies to conduct their business more effectively. Human interaction is a key element of partnership and success, so it’s no surprise that 76 percent of frequent fliers believe face-to-face interactions are preferable to video conferencing for pitches and sales meetings, according to a survey by Globetrender. Even if the return to business travel is slow, it is unlikely that business owners will abandon methods of conduct that have worked for decades.
With experts forecasting a continued trend towards remote working, travelling for face-to-face meetings with team members and clients will actually become more important than ever. There may be fewer transatlantic slogs for routine meetings, but in-person bonding opportunities for scattered remote workers and clients will become a key pillar of corporate culture.
Companies competing to attract top talent will also need to show that they are providing flexibility like never before – and this includes allowing employees to choose when to commute to the office or hit the road for business. Travel may begin to feel more like a work perk than an obligation – and this is providing new opportunities for businesses operating within the business travel sector.
The rapidly expanding mid to long term rental market for instance, is already starting to capitalize on the trend towards professionals working abroad. No longer tied to a physical location, employees are starting to relocate on a more frequent basis, turning towards companies such as Flatio to source mid-term rental contracts. This decentralized and globally distributed workforce is also likely to open up demand for business tools such as TripActions, which lets companies organize and book travel from multiple origins at ease.
Going forward, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic on business travel, particularly with Covid vaccines being jabbed into British arms at a furious rate. That said, companies operating in the sector are going to have to work very hard to stand out from the crowd and win back trust.
The coming months are a pivotal time for brands in the sector – and rebuilding this trust should be the number one priority. An effective travel PR campaign can help improve relations with business customers, restore faith in a brand and communicate the positive impact that organisations operating within the business travel sector can provide post pandemic.
With concerns remaining that Zoom interaction will in fact remain the norm, businesses operating within the space must ensure that they are communicating their side of this conversation, asserting their importance to their key audiences and positioning their service not as something that’s value has been erased by the pandemic, but one that has adapted and is now ideally placed to support the new face of international business.
At The PHA Group we have been working with numerous travel clients throughout the pandemic – telling their stories and maintaining their profiles and reputations. One of our clients is TravelUp, the leading travel agent. Their business had to rapidly transform overnight when coronavirus devastated the industry. We worked with them across both Public Relations and Public Affairs as they transformed their business to cope with the huge demand for refunds – whilst campaigning to the Civil Aviation Authority, Ministers and MPs for changes in how cancelled air fares are returned. You can read more about the work we did with TravelUp here.
We are currently also representing a consortium of UK airlines who feel their businesses have been negatively impacted by Brexit. They need to tell their story and implore the Civil Aviation Authority and the Department for Transport for their help and intervention.
If you would be interested in discussing how we could help your travel brand rebuild trust amongst your key audiences, get in touch with our award-winning team today to discuss how we could support you.