Returning to the road for today’s travellers is contingent on a combination of three factors: mandatory quarantine, COVID-19 testing, and satisfying essential worker qualifications. Depending on where an individual is travelling, they may have to meet one or all three of these requirements.
Of these, none holds more time and costing-saving potential as a standalone option than traveller testing. Airlines and airports have already rolled out plans for rapid testing, which extend to select routes and passengers. For a more strategic and holistic approach, companies should consider negotiating directly with test providers in order to integrate comprehensive COVID-19 testing into their corporate travel programs. Companies that do so will see start to see the benefits we’ve outlined below.
Simplifying Travel and Safety
The logistics of travel and safety have grown increasingly complex as a result of the pandemic, particularly for travellers facing as many as 14 days of quarantine. When using rapid testing, quarantine and essential travel restrictions can be eliminated or reduced for most destinations. By streamlining testing through a corporate travel program, the process can be made even more efficient.
Christine Sikes, Direct Travel’s Executive Vice President of Customer Experience, points to airport testing as a positive development, albeit one that may not work for all business travellers. For example, if an airport offers testing at terminal three, a passenger arriving at terminal two might have difficulty or lack the time needed to navigate to the testing site and wait for results. Alternatively, a self-testing kit that can be mailed or dropped off at a specified lab site, makes it as simple as possible for the traveller.
When these testing kits are offered through a corporate travel program, this provides the company with further line of sight into the traveller’s activities and safety, allowing fulfillment of Duty of Care responsibilities. To facilitate this, Sikes points to the ways businesses can use their Travel Management Company (TMC) to deploy messaging. For instance, a message can be sent once a trip is booked letting the traveller know that a COVID-19 test will be required to travel. 72 hours prior to departure, a follow-up message can be used to provide the specific parameters and guide the traveller through the process.
While safety and traveller experience are first and foremost, including testing as an element of your travel program can also provide savings and further visibility into T&E.
COVID-19 testing is covered by most insurance plans, but only when deemed medically appropriate, such as when symptoms are present or in the event of a confirmed exposure. In contrast, tests conducted for business travel purposes are typically paid for out-of-pocket and can present a challenge for evaluating reimbursements.
Sikes compares it to airplane seat upgrades to Premium or Comfort class, which result in millions of dollars spent each year with limited T&E visibility due to the expense falling below the standard $50 threshold. Similarly, most companies do not currently have a dedicated line item in their budget for COVID-19 tests or clearly outlined policies for reimbursement amounts.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study determined tests can cost anywhere from $20 to $850, with $127 being the median cost. That represents a sizable range to tackle for corporate travel programs without consistent standards established. By purchasing mail-in tests for their travellers or negotiating rates with preferred testing vendors, businesses can avoid this headache and ensure a cost-conscious approach.
Expanding the New Normal
The constant ebb and flow of case counts domestically and abroad has already shown that travel must adapt rather than attempt to outwait the current pandemic. Now, rapid testing has become an essential part the new normal.
“Until we have reliable vaccines in place that can be distributed globally, we will continue to depend on quarantine allowance for negative tests,” says Sikes. “Realistically, we’re looking at this shaping the way we travel for the foreseeable future.”
More than ever, this underscores the importance of working with a TMC partner to form a strategic plan about who is travelling and for what purpose. To help your travellers feel comfortable getting back on the road and to drive growth for your company, Direct Travel can assist with:
- Incorporating COVID-19 testing into your program’s travel policy
- Adding testing requirements to your automated trip approval process
- Ensuring you have the proper communications in place to keep travellers informed
We’re all working together to continually expand and redefine what the new normal looks like for the future of travel. Undoubtedly, aligning traveller testing with your business goals is a key part of that process.