When the COVID-19 epidemic interrupted global travel, business travelers were forced to shift fast from in-person meetings and events to virtual platforms. As the epidemic continues and stakeholders in the travel industry prepare for recovery, our study reveals that the post-crisis recovery will take years and that corporate travel will recover at a slower rate than leisure travel.
In this essay, we look at the function of corporate travel and how the sector has recovered from prior disruptions; the segments that may return earliest, as well as how and why they will vary; and the areas that may be permanently displaced by technology. We also look at travel patterns and event recovery in China, the first big market to resume travel, as well as how other important economies are faring on different schedules of pandemic recovery. Finally, we identify essential steps that might assist travelers in their protracted rehabilitation. In subsequent sections, we will delve more deeply into the timeframe and structure of the business travel recovery curve.
Business travel for face-to-face sales and customer meetings will be the first to return
Examining the purpose of travel next, those we interviewed believe that, aside from mission-critical use cases (such as supply-chain-related travel that has continued throughout the pandemic), travel for sales and client-related meetings will be among the first to return as domestic travel resumes and more travel is permitted.
Sales-focused firms stated a desire to resume face-to-face meetings, with the awareness that doing so would need both sides to be willing to travel. The decision of whether client offices will reopen to staff and allow visitors will be a big signal of whether that sort of travel will resume. Other respondents acknowledged a desire to stay up with competitors: if rivals resume traveling for sales meetings or presentations, organizations may face additional pressure to return to travel in order to obtain business from critical clients.
The timescale for resuming internal in-person meetings is lengthier, with more scrutiny on what is deemed business vital and cannot be handled by technology. Interaction with tangible assets—data centers and IT infrastructure—will take precedence. However, economic limitations across businesses, particularly those worst impacted by the pandemic’s economic upheaval, will devastate internal travel as budgets are slashed disproportionately. Internal MICE and other off-site events may not resume until late in 2021 or later. Furthermore, some internal travel will be permanently replaced by virtual meetings and cooperation.
Business travel for important industry events will almost certainly be the last to return since it requires a greater level of trust in public safety. Although conferences and trade exhibitions are important networking opportunities that are impossible to replicate digitally, they are also high-risk due to the large number of participants, which may vary from a few hundred to over 100,000. When asked which steps would most enhance confidence in big MICE business travel reservations, US travel planners selected the availability of a COVID-19 vaccination first, ahead of stable public-health indicators and eased government limitations.