What does the future hold for business travel?

I could start this article off by telling you about how the coronavirus pandemic changed our world. But I’m not going to dwell on that. We all remember how difficult 2020 was. It’s not something we’re likely to forget soon.

What I do want to focus on is the future—and it’s one that I see as particularly bright. We’re living in a time where scientists were able to produce multiple vaccines to combat the spread of a previously unknown virus in a year. If that’s not something to celebrate, then what is? That’s why I know that this “new normal” isn’t going to be something out of a dystopian novel. Life is going to be normal again, and travel is going to come back. It’s just going to be a little different.

As the vaccine rollout continues across the globe and travellers start to get back on the road again, here are a few trends I predict will characterize the future of the travel industry.

Flexible trips will be the normal way of traveling

Flexibility as a tool for safe and comfortable travel

Flexible fares will become a must-have for frequent travellers. We can already see travel coming back in different stages around the world, but the speed of vaccine rollouts and changing travel restrictions can still affect planned trips. That’s why travellers will rely on flexible fares to give them the peace of mind that they won’t lose money if they need to change or cancel a trip on short notice. It’s about having that “comfort net” that their itinerary isn’t 100% set in stone.

Demand for more flexibility beyond COVID-19

Flexibility is one of the most in-demand perks in business travel (and leisure travel too) on a broader scale. It’s not just to do with COVID-19 – travellers have long been seeking less rigid booking policies and fares from airlines, for example. The pandemic simply made this non-negotiable. At this point, I think that travellers and travel managers will continue to demand the flexibility to change or cancel any aspect of a trip, no matter the reason, and no questions asked.

Sustainability will have a serious seat at the table

Trains before planes

There are actually two reasons people will use trains before planes. First, there is a perception that trains are safer from COVID-19 than planes. That’s because they’re more spacious, there’s less bottleneck crowding at security, and many train stations are outdoors. Second, trains are undoubtedly the more environmentally-friendly option. In fact, taking a train over a domestic flight can reduce an individual’s carbon emissions by about 84%! Countries like France are even banning the use of planes for short-haul flights under 2.5 hours. Other European countries like Austria and Germany are also considering similar legislation. Sustainability was a hot topic even before the outbreak of the pandemic, and now industry players are realizing that they need to bring the overall environmental impact of their organizations down. And it starts with something as simple as booking business travelers on trains for short-haul journeys.

A greater desire for sustainable travel

The virus woke a sort of “collective consciousness” about sustainability in us all. We realized that we weren’t prepared for a crisis of this scale and that the next big crisis is likely to come from climate change. More and more travellers are opting to travel sustainably through things like carbon offsetting. As millennials start to form a greater part of the workforce, the values they were raised with to recycle and be mindful of the environment will take hold in businesses. Travel directly or indirectly affects most of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and the industry as a whole will give sustainability a more serious seat at the table as a result. Businesses worldwide are already looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and general environmental impact. Making business travel greener is a great step forward.

New trends in how we travel

New types of business trips will emerge to bring people together

Businesses worldwide are giving employees remote working options. Whether that’s going fully remote and “working from anywhere”, or operating on a hybrid model, distributed teams will need (and want) to come together. As we say at TravelPerk, the meetings that matter happen in person. That’s why I predict that a new type of business trip will emerge—one where team members will travel from different working hubs to get together. They’ll fuse teambuilding and brainstorming sessions with meetings with clients and colleagues, and will even turn them into “bleisure” (business and leisure) trips.

COVID-19 documentation will be a requirement for a while

Countries will keep doing everything they can to mitigate the spread of the virus. One of the leading concerns is still the threat of new variants coming in from outside. That’s why governments will keep requiring proof from travelers that they are COVID-free. That could be a “health passport” proving that you’ve been vaccinated (and with which vaccine). It could just be proof of a negative PCR test, and some countries may still require testing upon arrival. Quarantine requirements won’t be universal and will differ depending on where you’re coming from.

Travel corridors between countries will open up

Because countries are administering the vaccines at different speeds, travel corridors between countries where both ends of the trip are COVID-free will open up. Countries like Spain, Greece, and Israel have opened up safe travel corridors allowing vaccinated travelers to enter with no restrictions. I believe that this arrangement is going to stick around for a while until most countries reach high vaccination rates.

Travellers will book closer to their departure date

Before the pandemic, trip searches were usually conducted between 7 and 30 days prior to the selected departure date. What we’re seeing on our platform is that searches for trips less than six days away are now equal to those searches. This could mean that people booking trips prefer to do so closer to their departure date as a way of staying on top of changing travel restrictions. This will continue for the foreseeable future, however as more travel corridors open up and vaccination rates increase worldwide, we anticipate that booking tendencies will go back to normal.

A few final thoughts

If this pandemic has proved one thing it’s that a Zoom call can never fully replace the value of those face-to-face interactions. I, myself, have vowed not to hold any more Zoom meetings until September. One thing’s sure—travel is definitely coming back. And it’s not going to be “new normal” travel. It’s just going to be normal travel.

We’re already seeing that travel is recovering. In the US, for example, domestic leisure travel has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels. Overall travel is sure to make a full comeback because we are, after all, social beings who crave in-person interaction. And that’s exactly what travel, be that for business or pleasure, provides. It offers people the possibility to come together, to create, and to experience. That’s not something that can just go away. Just wait and see.