A guide for your next business trip

yesHARP OUTFIT and a determined step. The left turn on the plane away from the cheap seats. Skipping the movie in flight to refine a presentation. In the past two years of the pandemic, these obvious gifts from the globetrotting executive have become rare. According to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), a trade body, global spending on flights, hotels, car rentals, restaurants and other non-essential services fell from $1.4 trillion in 2019 to $660 billion in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns and strict limits on cross-border movement.

Despite new disruptions, from coronavirus outbreaks and a tragic plane crash in China to Russia’s war in Ukraine, many places are relaxing travel restrictions. The United States and Europe are mostly open for business. On March 21, Hong Kong said it would admit vaccinated arrivals from nine countries, including the United States and Britain, from April 1 and relax onerous hotel quarantine requirements. Business travelers are once again visible in airports, airplanes and hotels. the GBTA expects corporate travel to rebound strongly this year and return to its pre-pandemic peak by 2024 (see chart 1).

That’s a relief to full-service airlines, which counted on business travelers for 30% of revenue and a larger share of profit, and large global hotel chains, which got two-thirds of their sales from guests. executives. For corporate road warriors, the news is more mixed. The remaining measures of covid-19, readjusted travel budgets, changing work patterns, increased awareness of risk by companies and individuals: everything is changing business travel in profound ways. Some of the changes will make traveling for work a more pleasant experience. Others won’t.

Tossing your laptop, mini toiletries, and clothing into a roller bag used to be a pretty universal corporate ritual. From now on, whether you do or not will depend more on who you work for, your role, where you’re going and the purpose of your trip. Scott Davies, head of the Travel Management Institute, another industry body, explains that overall travel budgets used to be set annually, often based on broad business goals. As they rebuild after the COVID break, he hopes many trips will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Many fringe excursions won’t clear the hurdle (see Figure 2), especially when companies are serious about reducing their carbon footprints, which grow with every air mile.

Some trips will be quick to return. Indeed, even at the height of the pandemic, essential business travel continued; managing and maintaining remote oil wells, large infrastructure or factories far from the central office is impossible through the Internet. The share of travel spending by manufacturing, utility or construction companies increased from 48% in 2019 to 51% in 2020, according to the GBTA. Companies for which face-to-face meetings with clients are desirable for maintaining relationships and vital for generating new business, such as financial and professional services firms, have been quick to get workers back on the road. Anecdotal evidence suggests that as soon as a company heard that a competitor was pressing meat (or at least fist bumping), it did the same.

If you pack that suitcase, chances are your destination is domestic. As with leisure travel, long-distance business travel is recovering more slowly. A survey of more than 450 companies conducted by the GBTA in February it found that two in three had restarted domestic travel, but fewer than one in three had done so for cross-border travel.

Domestic travel in the United States, which accounted for nine out of 10 American corporate excursions in 2019, according to Bernstein, a broker, will increasingly go ahead. So will short-distance trips between European cities, which in 2018 accounted for two-thirds of I Business trip. Until the latest covid outbreaks, the same seemed true for flying in China, where business travel spending fell much less than the global average in 2020 and was recently forecast to grow at twice the global average in 2021 (although Chinese borders remain impregnable to most outsiders).

Your fellow travelers will disproportionately work for smaller companies. American Airlines estimates that smaller business travelers are back to 80% of their pre-Covid numbers. The comparable figure for large companies is 40%. One reason is that small businesses mostly send people on those popular domestic routes. Another is that they can be a little more relaxed about the welfare of their workers. McKinsey’s Vik Krishnan, a consultancy, says the pandemic has led travel managers at large companies to feel a heightened sense of duty to care for employees.

fight for flight

Getting approval for a trip is therefore more difficult than ever before. A recent survey of 170 North American corporate travel managers by Morgan Stanley, a bank, shows that budgets in 2022 are expected to be 31% below the 2019 level. In the short term, approval may still be more difficult. On March 15, Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, told the financial times that the war-induced increase in the price of oil will “undoubtedly” increase ticket prices on domestic and international routes. Other airline bosses no doubt have similar designs.

Even if your supervisor signs your trip, it will be more difficult for you to plan it. The world’s airlines are operating at around two-thirds of their pre-Covid capacity. That means fewer schedule options and fewer direct flights, says Bernstein’s Richard Clarke. The problem is not limited to flying. The breaking up of the 5:40am Eurostar train from London to Paris forces executives to arrive the night before to seal the morning deal with a croissant and latte.

Once on the trail, the experience is also not what it used to be. With many executive lounges yet to reopen, the weary manager must seek refuge in a noisy restaurant, or worse, as many restaurants also remain closed, on a concourse bench within earshot of a disgruntled baby. At many airports, he too will be required to wear a mask. Although London Heathrow and some other airports have lifted mask requirements, the US federal mask mandate has been extended until at least April 18. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration fined nearly 1,000 maskless travelers, so ignore the rule at your peril (and good luck spending that fine).

On board the plane, you may find yourself in economy class more often, and not just because of rising airfares. Some climate-conscious airlines are already reconfiguring planes with fewer business-class seats (whose emissions per occupant are three times those of an economy seat). CEOThose in big business will be sad to learn that even dirtier first-class seats may be gone forever.

In the air, expect to be served by cabin crew clad in personal protective equipment (especially in Asia, which remains more concerned about hygiene than the West). You should also keep your mask on, unless you’re consuming food or drinks (of the non-alcoholic variety on American Airlines, which will only restart in-flight alcoholic beverage sales in mid-April). At least hot meals are back; as recently as last month, even first-class passengers on American and Delta had to do without that livelihood on domestic flights.

Longer term, the news for the traveling executive is not all bad. The introduction of contactless technology and online check-in for flights and hotels should speed up travel a bit (at least once there’s no longer a need to check pandemic paperwork like passenger locator forms and certificates of travel). vaccines). With many planes sitting idle on the tarmac as a result of Covid-related cancellations, some airlines have jumped at the chance to fix them. The Australian Qantas, for example, has modernized its fleet of TO380 superjumbos by installing more comfortable seats for premium passengers. Singapore Airlines has upgraded the cabins of some of its short-haul fleets.

The few who do get to travel on a corporate jet are also becoming a little less select. Business jet traffic has recovered much faster than commercial aviation. According to ALAXa consultancy, January was the busiest month on record, with the number of flights 15% higher than in January 2019. In a Morgan Stanley survey, 11% of respondents said their companies would be more liberal with the use of private jets in 2022 than they were in 2021.

Chronic jet lag can become a thing of the past. With long-distance travel still restricted, companies are reportedly opting to send executives on fewer trips that span more days. Unseemly displays of corporate machismo, like flying halfway around the world for a short meeting, may never come back, no doubt pleasing all involved.

And many of those longer trips combine work and play. Morgan Stanley sees evidence from U.S. hotel chains that Thursdays and Sundays are becoming more popular with guests, suggesting some workers may be shifting trips to the beginning or end of the week to blend work. with pleasure. Such trips have become common enough to earn the ugly nickname “bleisure.” Danny Finkel of Trip Actions, a firm that helps others manage business travel, says this could also appeal to spenders: Weekend flights are often much cheaper, offsetting the cost of flights. additional nights in a hotel.

Perhaps the best news for the bedraggled business traveler is that some trips just won’t happen. Jarrod’s Castle UBS, a bank, notes that 40% of business trips are to meet with clients and another 40% are internal meetings. Conferences, exhibitions and the like make up the rest. He estimates that perhaps half of the excursions within the company, especially for training or meetings between people who are not C-Executive suite, they are expendable. That means a fifth less travel overall. No complaints there.

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This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “The Return of the Road Warrior”

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