With vaccines rolling out across the world, travel is beginning to pick up. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screenings have reached the highest volumes in a year, and air carriers are experiencing a surge in bookings.
More promising news, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement explaining that as long as coronavirus precautions are taken, fully vaccinated travelers are a low risk and can travel in the United States without getting tested for COVID-19 before or self-quarantining after.
These developments may have some corporates wondering what they should be doing to prepare for the launch of their travel program and when might be the right time to resume trip activities. So today, let’s look at some questions that can help make sure you tick all the right boxes and that can guide you to a decision you feel confident about.
What do stakeholders think?
You likely will have a mix of opinions. For example, an HR leader who understands the value of human interaction in business may support business travel to foster face-to-face connections. The financial officer and procurement manager, who tend to be savings-driven, may argue that the company can continue using videoconferencing technology for meetings. Meanwhile, salespeople may be eager to travel again because they are afraid of missing out on opportunities if they don’t get in front of the customer before their competitor does. A sustainability officer may be open to the idea of travel but stress that the company has to be smart about how and why employees travel. Taking in all these viewpoints can help to create a balanced approach to the program relaunch.
How do employees feel about traveling?
While there may be jobs where travel is absolutely required, companies want their employees to feel comfortable getting back on the road again. That’s why many organizations have been using surveys to gauge their employees’ desire to travel.
Organizations can use survey feedback to identify which set of employees are ready to go as soon as they’re given the green light, which ones will travel only under certain conditions (e.g., after they have been vaccinated), and which ones do not feel comfortable traveling at all. Through the surveys, you can also uncover what employees’ top concerns are and what the company needs to address before sending travelers on the road.
What are other companies doing?
Before deciding what action they will take, many organizations want to know how other companies are approaching the return to travel through external benchmarking. With all this uncertainty, knowing what other organizations are doing can create comfort and confidence that you’re making the right decisions as well.
Having benchmarking information also can aid with gaining buy-in from senior management, demonstrating that what’s being recommended is in line with the position other companies are taking. It also can help with developing plans and policies for the new travel experience.
Your TMC is the best resource for this type of information. It works with a wide range of organizations and travel suppliers in gathering insights from various stakeholders within a company and can offer advice specific to COVID-related questions based on what others are doing.
By the way, we just launched a live travel map that shows the destinations where other clients are letting their employees go to help you make informed decisions about your own policies. (If you are a client who has Premier Insights™, ask your account manager about this new feature.)
What’s the travel budget?
Establishing a travel budget in this environment is tricky. Usually, it requires reviewing the numbers from the year before. However, with 2020 being such an anomaly and even 2019 being a different environment from today, many companies are finding it difficult to use the past to forecast the future.
If you decide to set a higher budget, we recommend monitoring performance closely and using the data from traveler behavior to determine next year’s budget. If you go with a lower budget, we suggest tracking performance more on a case-by-case basis to have tighter oversight and a more realistic understanding of the “new normal,” which then can help in planning next year’s budget levels. If leaning toward the latter strategy, we recommend building in a cushion. Even if we can make assumptions today that most meetings will occur virtually, there is an appetite to travel again and business travel may return faster than we imagine.
In either case, a decision tree flowchart could help map out the types of trips employees potentially will be taking and the factors that could impact the budget.
Do you have adequate duty of care protection for traveling employees?
Companies have a responsibility to keep their employees safe and need to support them when they are experiencing an issue on the road.
When evaluating your program against the realities of today, here are some questions to ask: What measures will the company be taking to mitigate travelers’ safety, security, and health risks? Has the travel policy been updated to include COVID-specific guidelines? How should travelers seek assistance when it’s both an urgent and nonurgent issue? What guidelines are in place if an employee gets sick during their journey? How will the company support travelers who have unexpected issues – for instance, if they are stranded in a foreign country due to a sudden shutdown? Do your suppliers meet your safety and hygiene standards? If not, what action will be taken?
Use our self-assessment scorecard to identify other gaps in your duty of care program.
Tip: The safety guidelines should be finalized before focusing on the operations required to get your travel program up and running again. This will make implementing the necessary duty of care changes easier.
Do travelers have all the tools, paperwork, and information they need to travel?
After this past year, it’ll be necessary to dust off the technology travelers have used in the past and make sure it fits their needs today. For instance, has the online booking tool been properly restored and is it displaying the correct information, including safety guidelines and compliance notifications that should be promoted? Is the pre-trip approval software working? Have international Wi-Fi plans been reinstated so travelers have coverage when they are abroad?
Before, frequent travelers could book a trip blindfolded. Today with ever-changing government regulations, COVID test requirements, and the rise of vaccine passports, even veteran travelers are unaware of what’s required of them and it can be challenging to track down the correct information.
That’s why we have built Travel Vitals™. This simple-to-use search tool provides all the information a traveler needs to adequately prepare for a trip, from suppliers’ safety measures to country-specific COVID test requirements. While it’s a site we’ve made available to the public, itinerary-specific Travel Vitals information will automatically be delivered to our travelers’ clients through email, our mobile app, and when they speak to our travel counselors.
To address the many policy- and organization-specific queries travelers are bound to have once the travel program opens back up, an internal committee could be organized to field employees’ questions. We also recommend speaking to your TMC and suppliers to see what else can be done to equip travelers with the right tools and data.
What external factors will impact the decision?
Simply because your company is prepared to send travelers back on the road doesn’t mean it will be able to. Travel readiness isn’t merely influenced by internal company and employee factors but also by country border regulations, vaccine distributions, supplier capacity, etc. If one of your top destinations isn’t allowing international travelers or is imposing a two-week quarantine when only a two-day trip is required, alternative solutions will need to be found.
There may be supplier changes – hotels that are now closed or air routes that have changed – that could impact your travelers’ experience as well.
Staying on top of the latest travel advisories and government regulations is a must for figuring out which destinations you can realistically open back up to your travelers. We again suggest Travel Vitals to stay informed as well as reviewing alerts from your travel risk management provider.