The “New Normal” of Business Travel: What to Expect and How to Get Ready

May 25, 2020 | Corporate Member News

For the past few months, most companies have focused their energy on how to adapt to a remote work environment and still keep the business moving forward.

But, what happens when shelter-in-place restrictions are eased and people head back to the office which, for road warriors, means taking to the sky? How will business travel change?  How will airlines adjust? And how can travel managers prepare for what’s to come?

Although no one has a crystal ball, or all of the answers, here’s what our experts are predicting:

Higher prices and fewer options
“In the short term, you’re going to see leaner staffing from airlines and hotels as they try to conserve cash and identify exactly when their travelers are coming back. They’ve already cut capacity—parking planes and accelerating the retirement of aircraft,” explained Charlie Sultan, SVP of Global Content and Supplier Strategy for SAP Concur. “So, even when travel opens up, you’ll see a lot of the non-stop flights going away, which means business travelers will spend more time at the airport, waiting for connecting flights—particularly if they’re going to smaller markets.”

To adhere to social distancing guidelines, these flights will likely have fewer passengers, leaving the middle seat open. This not only means that seat availability will be limited, but is likely to increase the price of airfare.

Decreased international travel
Even when domestic air travel begins to rise, Sultan expects international travel for business to become more of a rarity.

Not only is it expensive, but now companies must consider the medical capacities of the country, the incidence of COVID-19, as well as the fact that the traveler could be quarantined after returning home. Organizations must weigh whether the trip is worth the risk of potentially sidelining a key employee for 14 days.

Increased car travel and car rentals
While air travel decreases, at least for the short term, car travel and car rentals are likely to increase.

“If the destination is drivable, I think people will start doing that, both because flight capacity is down and they don’t want to be in crowded environments,” Sultan said.

Sultan also expects a large swath of business travelers who were using ridesharing services before the pandemic will go back to renting a car.

“If I rent my own car, I have control over its cleanliness, and I also know that I’m the only one who’s been in that car for those 24 or 48 hours, as opposed to getting into a lot of different vehicles through the course of a trip,” he said.

Increased focus on duty of care
For every travel manager and every company, the pandemic has underscored the need for traveler visibility and Duty of Care.

“As things open up, I believe companies will be hyper-focused on the safety of their travelers, and making sure they have a means of knowing exactly where their employees are, whether they booked through an agency, a tool or decided to book on their own,” Sultan said.

Organizations will seek out a solution to give them this world view of traveler location, and a way to communicate with them, if they don’t have a mechanism in place already.

What should travel managers be doing right now?
While we’re in this “wait and see” period, travel managers should take steps to prepare for the inevitable changes ahead.

1 Secure Travel Refunds: If you haven’t done so already, start looking at any tickets or travel that’s booked for the two or three months ahead. Find out which trips are now cancelled, so you can secure refunds or credits. Put a tracking mechanism in place for those trips that are still under consideration, in case the trip or the flight is cancelled.

2. Review your Existing Travel Policies: Look at what you have in place to identify if you need any alterations regarding overall travel approvals, international approvals, and any booking that occurs outside of the system.  Determine if there needs to be a policy addendum for an interim period, restricting travel to certain locations or adding extra steps or layers of approval to ensure that the travel is necessary, as well as the risk level of the location.

Check out our free Travel Policy Template for helpful tips on creating or updating your plan.

3. Update Travel Profiles: Make sure you have complete travel profiles and current contact information for all of your travelers, and a plan for contacting them in case they travel to a location that has a sudden outbreak, or other unsafe condition.

4. Revisit Your Supplier Agreements: Review the volume-based discounts you have negotiated with your air travel partners and hotels and identify what needs to be renegotiated. If an airline eliminates frequently traveled routes, or a hotel near your headquarters has shut down, find out how they plan to accommodate for that.

If those primary vendors have permanently eliminated those routes or locations, then it’s time to start looking for alternate suppliers and begin those negotiations.

5. Streamline Your Processes: “As companies slash budgets, it becomes more important than ever to assess your operational efficiency, and seek out ways to take as many steps out of the travel process as possible,” Sultan said. “How can you automate manual processes or more efficiently audit expenses and compliance? How can you increase staff productivity and get more visibility into spend?”

In times where budgets and staff are lean, finding a way to streamline your operation is more critical than ever.

Assess your entire end-to-end process to look for areas for improvement. Then, start looking at solutions that can streamline those trouble spots. Assess the ROI and, if possible, start making incremental changes before travel volume picks up again.

Although no one knows exactly what will happen next, by using this time to reassess your policies, procedures, agreements, and most importantly, your plan for keeping your travelers safe, your organization will be ready for whatever the new normal of travel looks like in a post-COVID-19 world.

For more information on SAP Concur, and our automated, mobile travel, expense and invoice management solutions, visit

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