Trends for the post COVID-19 return to business travel

By |2021-05-25T19:07:36+00:00May 25th, 2021|Business Travel|


COVID-19 has impacted almost every aspect of our lives. And while normality is slowly returning around the globe, the landscape of business travel may never be the same again.

Employers, employees, and consumers have all been forced to alter their business interactions. While customers have turned to online sales, businesses have discovered a host of alternatives ranging from remote working to video calls. While traditional business practices will return, the new norms are likely to stay too.

As far as business travel is concerned, spending experienced an unprecedented 42% year-on-year decline from 2019 to 2020 while international business travel fell by a huge 70%. Even as commercial journeys return for employers and employees alike, noticeable changes from past situations are inevitable. Here’s what to expect from the rest of 2021 and into 2022.

A greater focus on employee support and wellbeing

Mental health has become an increasingly hot talking point in recent years, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the topic, particularly in relation to work-life balances. In some aspects, the loss of certain freedoms has negatively impacted people’s frame of mind. However, working from home has enabled people to focus on their work, life balance and spend more time with their families.

Bosses will now need to make a conscious effort to invest in employee wellness schemes. Several key factors point to business travel as one of the primary focal point, such as;

  • A report by Owl Labs found that 55% of remote workers would rather look for another job than stay in their current role if they were required to return to the workplace.
  • Research by the TUC shows that employees spent an average of 59 minutes commuting each day prior to the pandemic, equating to 221 hours per year.
  • Roughly 40% of air travelers are still worried about potentially contracting the disease, which naturally increases the threat of anxiety and related issues.

The fact of the matter is that many workers are apprehensive about travelling for work again. This, amongst other factors, has created a power shift that can be leveraged by workers to negotiate remote working (at least for some of their contracted hours) in a bid to achieve a better work-life balance. Scheduling software may become more popular in workplaces around the globe, due to the focus on having a work life balance and ensuring workers know when they are working and when they have free time.

Companies will have to listen to employee voices, not least because 57% of highly stressed workers are disengaged and, therefore, less productive. While some forms of business travel will be considered necessities, the definition of ‘essential travel’ now looks vastly different from the pre-pandemic era. And it cannot be ignored.

There will be less international travel and more domestic

One of the big issues surrounding the ‘return to normality’ for business travel is that the protocols will continue to vary from one country to the next throughout the foreseeable future. When coupled with the fact that situations in overseas territories could change at short notice, employers may find it is safer for their finances and productivity to stick with video conferencing and digital communications.

International travel is likely to stay limited to essential meetings while domestic travel will be used to create a smoother transition. It should be noted that;

  • Travel planning windows are likely to be far shorter, with business trips booked within six days of travel becoming as common as those booked 7-30 days before departure.
  • After a monumental decline in the first months of the pandemic, long road travel returned to a relatively normal level fairly soon and is one of the preferred modes of transport.
  • As a result of the changing landscape, 50% of employers have introduced new travel policies, with the majority prioritizing domestic over international.

It is also important to recognize that half of all employees now have an increased desire to reduce their carbon footprint, which lends itself to an increased focus on domestic travel, with a particular focus on rail travel. The infrastructure in different geographic locations will play a significant role for international rail travel too. Mainland Europe boasts far better networks than the Americas, which will create a more accessible environment.

Nonetheless, any international trips that can be handled via digital interactions will continue to be the preferred option for employers and employees around the globe. After all, even in situations where flights are possible, the process of travelling to another country in the current climate is immensely stressful. Avoidance is clearly the preferred route.

Business travel will be more mindful

Any suggestions that business travel is dead are wide of the mark. The industry is still recovering, but is in a far better shape now than it was six months ago. Business travel will return. Nonetheless, businesses are likely to be more mindful – and it is likely to deliver a string of benefits for both employers and employees. The added mindfulness will relate to both the definition of necessary travel, and how to facilitate smooth and safe experiences.

In addition to supporting employee wellness and avoiding potential late changes to the itineraries, businesses will be more mindful because;

  • The global economy dropped by 4.4% in 2020, meaning businesses must look to cut expenses where possible. Trading travel for video meetings is an ideal way.
  • Advanced tools like spreadsheets can be used to classify proposed trips to determine what’s essential and help businesses make informed decisions.
  • A generational shift means that the majority of workers are now tech-savvy and feel confident in using tech tools to their full potential.

A growing number of businesses have opened their minds to the use of technology to overcome the need for business travel as it can reduce admin and expenses while driving growth and convenience for all parties. Meanwhile, it should be noted that remote workforces and the fact many firms won’t renew premise licenses make business travel a less practical solution.

Business travel will never be lost completely. However, the world now feels smaller than ever, the need for clear and responsive communication is greater too. In order for business travel to continue after the pandemic, much more planning will be required. Travel forms may become a way for businesses to keep track of their travel plans and expenses.


Business travel is slowly being reintegrated into our working lives, but with a number of noteworthy caveats. Employers have now familiarized themselves with alternatives to traditional travel while employees now have the leverage to have their voices heard.

In short, essential travel and commuting are here to stay, but non-essential trips will be greatly reduced throughout the rest of 2021 and beyond.

Guest contributor Rebecca DiCioccio is the Marketing Manager at Paperform. Outside of work, Rebecca can be found exploring the outdoors or with a book in hand. Rebecca’s background in copywriting and keen interest in SEO and digital marketing mean she understands the importance of staying up to date with the latest trends in a dynamic and ever changing industry.

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