In today’s rapidly changing environment, accurate and relevant coronavirus information is at a premium for companies and their employees. With the goal of helping meet this need, Direct Travel recently sponsored BTN’s latest thought leadership webinar—Managing Travel During a Crisis—now available on demand here. To supplement this webinar, we’ve distilled a few key takeaways below for you to share with your team.
1. The evolving importance of the travel manager role
The COVID-19 pandemic may have wreaked havoc on the day-to-day work of most travel managers, but it has also revealed the inextricable ways travel programs are tied to a company’s crisis plan.
According to Carey Pascoe—Senior Travel Manager, Corporate Procurement for Dolby Laboratories—a crisis can be an opportunity for travel managers to improve their process flows and get involved with their respective incident management teams. If your business does not have such a team, Pascoe recommends creating one with representation from HR, communications, and legal in addition to corporate travel.
Kelly Christner—Head of Global Travel, Fleet and Meetings for Edgewell Personal Care—and other experts in the webinar agreed, reiterating that the current pandemic has made clear the deep connections between travel, HR, and C-Suite decisions. Travel managers should make recommendations to executives regarding how/when to resume travel after a crisis, which need to align with HR assessments of employee safety and comfort level.
2. Work with your TMC and Duty of Care suppliers to ensure data accuracy
A business’s ability to track its employees and monitor the changing conditions of a crisis is only as good as the data at hand. Working with a trusted partner like a Travel Management Company (TMC) to source and analyze data allows for the most-informed decision amidst the uncertainty.
Pascoe recommends talking with your TMC about digging into granular intelligence and going beyond sweeping alerts such as border closures. While the broad brushstrokes are important, regions will reopen at a varied cadence, each presenting different conditions for travellers to adapt to.
Relying on past data to make future travel decisions should also be avoided. Kevin Iwamoto, Chief Strategy Officer at Bizly, says businesses essentially have to start at ground zero, using historical data only when needed to establish a new baseline. A TMC can help you bulletproof and audit the possibilities and project what future travel will look like.
3. Have a system in place for tracking unused tickets
How suppliers respond to a crisis can impact a business’s travel budget for years to come, particularly if unused tickets are not properly tracked. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates upwards of $35 billion in ticket airline refunds and vouchers across the globe.
For travel buyers, this means a shift in refund and change-fee policies unlike anything seen before. Iwamoto recommends collecting all available data for your unused tickets and cross-referencing the accuracy of the information with your partners. Once this step has been completed, you can form a utilization timeframe and deploy a strategy within your company.
If you have a TMC, verify what unused ticket management services they offer. Neil Hammond, a partner at GoldSpring Consulting, points out that a crisis may change a TMC’s configuration and impact the level of support available. Double-check with all of your suppliers and partners to see if the right services are still in place and to confirm if you have the appropriate contacts on file.
4. Resuming travel will depend on employee safety and comfort level
Unsurprisingly, before business travel can resume after a crisis, employees must first feel safe traveling. Assessing the comfort level of your travelers provides a foundation to layer on other factors like business needs, budget changes, and overall supply and demand to determine an appropriate timeline for resuming travel.
Both Pascoe and Christner agree that companies need to communicate with suppliers and share back with employees the specific safety measures being implemented to protect travellers. Additionally, what is effective in the first month of travel may need to be changed for month three. A phased, flexible approach with guidance from state and local regulation will help gradually alleviate employee concerns.
It is also important to remember that some aspects of a crisis may leave their mark long after travel has resumed. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, Iwamoto predicts that a slight drop in travel may occur as select businesses favour virtual meetings or adopt hybrid options. Future contracts may also need to be modified for inclusion of pandemic clauses.
While travel continues in limited form for some companies, Hammond theorizes that the clearest indicator for widespread travel resuming will not be remote employees returning to the physical workspace but the reappearance of visitors in the workplace. Until then, businesses should roll out a strategic and incremental plan for their travel program.
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