As the end of 2020 materializes, we observe the future and consider the trends that could shape the business travel sector in 2021. Yes, 2020 proved we can only predict so much. But as we come to the end of this seismic year – amid signs that the pandemic will soon be under control – what trends might shape the corporate travel sector in 2021?
Less spontaneity. More purpose.
Though business travel will pick up in 2021, it’ll still fall far short of pre-pandemic volumes. In part that will be ongoing restrictions for the first few months of the year, as countries race to distribute the vaccine, but it’ll also reflect the lessons of a year in which business travel all but ceased.
Going forward we’re likely to see organisations take a long hard look at what constitutes essential travel and adjust their plans, policies and budgets accordingly. Though the value of face-to-face will undoubtedly see a return to in-person meetings and events, it’s also likely that a proportion will be permanently replaced by virtual alternatives. Travel that does remain on the calendar will fulfil a clear business need.
One place, for longer
A longer stay in a single place, rather than quick stopovers in numerous destinations, is already a policy emerging in major organisations. In the short-term it reduces any potential exposure to the virus and reduces the different touchpoints on a journey, each of which travel teams are having to carefully consider to minimise risk.
But it’s a trend that comes with longer-term benefits too. Travellers are less exhausted from multiple short stays, and digressive pricing models available for accommodation allow travel managers to significantly cut down on costs. Expect more of it in 2021.
Flexibility. Flexibility. Flexibility.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Travel managers will no doubt take this on board as we head into 2021 designing corporate travel policies and negotiating RFPs with a heightened focus on the value of flexibility.
For operators looking to secure new business in the corporate travel sector that may mean a need to reconsider current cancellation and amendment policies, or simply flag more prominently their commitment to providing flexibility around bookings.
The pandemic has acted as a significant catalyst for technology that creates trips with as little human contact as possible. From digital check-in keys to cleaning robots and even remote-controlled rooms, an array of touchless tools has emerged in recent months.
It won’t be safety alone that drives this tech into the mainstream though. The beauty of these tools is the convenience they offer travellers. After all, who wouldn’t want to simply tap in a code and get into an apartment after a long journey? Or control every appliance in their accommodation via a universal remote control? The virus may have kickstarted the adoption of these technologies, but it’ll be this convenience that drives them forward long after COVID-19 has disappeared from view.
Compliance under the spotlight
Gone are the days of vague marketing terms around health, safety and sanitation. Moving forward we expect travel managers to take a far closer look at the small print around compliance from transport and accommodation providers, be it fire safety certificates, basic cleaning protocols, or even how reliable various accreditation schemes are.
For those providers that have invested in setting themselves apart on quality, it’ll provide a new opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition. For travel teams, it presents a brand new challenge in getting to grips with the minutiae of compliance.
Traveller first, travel second
For years wellbeing has been a buzzword at the top of boardroom agendas. But after the tumult of 2020, we expect corporate commitments to traveller wellbeing to come with new substance. As travel reopens after extended periods at home, there’s little doubt that levels of anxiety will be high at first. But by taking advantage of a new array of tools that allow teams to monitor and support staff wellbeing from afar – see a selection here – travel teams can proactively set about easing that anxiety wherever possible.
Going forward, we expect teams to focus on the traveller first, the travel second.