Just Different, but Still Valuable — and in Some Ways Better

By Brent Blake, President, Acendas Travel

Uncertainty makes prognosticators out of us all.

And when something has a wide and pervasive impact like Covid-19, it’s not difficult to let our minds wander about what the future might hold. There are the doomsayers who believe every calamity gives way to another one. And, there are the eternal optimists who find every silver lining in the dark cloud. 

I’m not sure how many are represented by each of those groups, but my interactions and observations tell me there is a large chunk of us somewhere in between that understands change is a part of life, and how we react is what will actually determine the outcome. Luck, good or bad, has little to do with it.

Staring at the Screen

In my world of corporate travel, it has been interesting to follow the prognostications as the pandemic has ebbed and flowed. We’ve hung on the daily statistics of Covid-19 case counts much like we have for the numbers of the S&P 500. At first, the feeling was if we can get the virus under control, travel would return relatively soon. In the meantime, we substituted face-to-face interactions with Zooms, Google Chats and Teams. After a while, we began to actually like these virtual meetings. No messing with airport check-in lines, baggage claims, early wake-up calls and so on. But as the pandemic continued and the novelty of online interactions wore off, we began to feel the limitations of the virtual world.

Workers took note of the shortcomings of life in front of the camera. The work day never seemed to end as participants came from time zones all over the world. Working virtually prevented people from reading body language or interacting as much as they could in person. And then there was the distraction of the bad background, the dog barking or the noise of the neighbor’s lawn mower which lowered the quality of the discussion.

The statistics bear this out as the “great resignation” has seen massive numbers of workers leaving their jobs. Worker satisfaction and fulfillment has been negatively impacted as well. There is a general feeling of unrest in the labor force. A career full of Zoom meetings is not what they had planned..

On the Road Again

This is where travel might be a solution — at least in part — to the Covid-19 blues. Business leaders have identified that in order to grow business, travel is often important to make a sale or enhance a relationship. For some workers, travel is seen as a means of personal and professional development. In short, there is value to be gained through travel.

Companies can facilitate a return to travel in a more positive manner than before the pandemic hit. With travel undergoing significant changes in protocol and because some service levels have decreased, businesses can step in by providing more information, better communication and added support. For example, the company can offer the traveler information about the destination, housing, dining options, recreational opportunities, etc. Since travel will likely remain lower than pre-pandemic levels, does it reason the company make it easier on the traveler by limiting the extremely early-morning or late-evening travel, and multi-layover routes?

In Times of Uncertainty, Turn to the Experts

One outcome that we did not anticipate early on, but quickly realized is that travel management companies such as Acendas Travel became more vital. Travel managers have leaned on us to help adjust travel programs to the benefit of the traveler. Our response has been to develop new technologies to provide real-time information, enhanced communication and more self-service options.

We know that many factors affect the employment decision. Compensation is often lower on the list. Interestingly, company policy regarding travel can be an asset in attracting workers and improving worker satisfaction. As I previously noted, a more supportive policy removes some of the angst for the traveler. For example, the term “bleisure” is gaining greater traction as companies are allowing associates to pair — at company expense —  business and leisure travel. One day you are presenting in the boardroom and the next you are recharging by the pool.

Addressing Isolation

Another aspect that has been elevated by the pandemic is the growth in number of remote workers. That means these remote associates will be gathering at least periodically in person with their teammates, necessitating the need for travel  

The outlook for corporate travel is still a bit fuzzy. My guess is that it will be a few years until we reach levels pre-pandemic. But what I am certain of is that the travel experience will be better. New technologies will create efficiencies, cost savings and enhanced communications. It will also be a more healthy and safe experience thanks to the advancements made by airlines, hotels, rental car agencies, restaurants and other sectors of the industry. Similar to what we experienced following 9/11, travelers will become accustomed to changes that are for the greater good.

As I look back at the past 18 months I understand why companies had to cut back on travel. Obviously, some of this was as health-related as much as it was economic-based. But what the market place has clearly told us since March of 2020 is there is still value in travel.