Business travel today: What’s new, what’s changed and what will never be the same again?

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Business travel today looks a whole lot different than it did just a couple of years ago. While the vaccination roll-out in South Africa and across the globe is positively contributing to the return of a sense of normalcy, there’s still a way to go before both leisure and corporate travel figures resemble those from 2019.

“Leisure travel has come back in full force. With over 100 countries that accept South Africans and over 20 international airlines flying to South Africa again, demand for leisure travel today outstrips supply. We just can’t keep up,” says Andrew Stark, FCTG Managing Director MEA.

Business travel is still lagging, but the future looks promising, with exciting trends ahead.

1. Booking lead times are normalising

Stark explains everyone is desperate to get back to ‘business as usual’. Zoom fatigue is a real thing with corporates being keen to connect face-to-face again. There’s evidence that traveller confidence is on the rise and this is happening a lot faster than originally anticipated.

“We expected it to be a gradual process, but it’s clear that corporates are quickly getting back into the workplace, and this is translating into an increase corporate travel. Booking times are also normalising. At the heart of the COVID pandemic, it was commonplace to book, pay, and travel all in the same month. Now, business owners and travel managers are adopting a forward booking outlook,” he says.

2. Quarantines will determine destination choice

The need to quarantine following a traveller’s arrival in a new country has definitely delayed the corporate travel revival, according to Oz Desai, GM Corporate Traveller. Fortunately, a great number of countries have scrapped quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers.  

Desai also insists that, based on past experiences, restrictions are unlikely to change overnight going forward, causing many corporations and corporate travellers to breathe a sigh of relief.

“Ultimately, if South Africa has been in the ‘green’ status for a long time, there’s little that could cause this to shift without notice.”

Still, clients who are set on avoiding quarantine at all costs must do their research, particularly regarding the traffic light system that most countries have adopted. Unfortunately, there’s currently no standardised system in place, which can make it all rather confusing to navigate.  Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to make these traffic light systems easier to understand, like the updated Traveller Resource Hub that provides access to an international map, supplying accurate guidelines for travel based on a traveller’s passport, country of departure, country of arrival, and vaccination status – courtesy of Sherpa.

3. Airline capacity remains challenging

Experts are divided on when travel, both corporate and leisure, is likely to return to normal – i.e., back to 2019 levels. Desai is optimistic and claims that demand for travel is currently outstripping supply. In his opinion, the only hinderance in the way is the ability for airlines, car hire companies, hoteliers, etc. to provide the necessary capacity to fit the rising demand.

Rodger Foster, Airlink CEO and Managing Director, on the other hand, believes that there’s still much work to be done.

“There’s been a massive improvement in airline capacity as of September, with double the capacity available compared to August. However, demand is still lagging. In short, there’s still a long way to go, but we remain positive that the situation will improve.”

4. Airline pricing remains low

Those who are still torn about getting moving once again are encouraged to take a look at the current prices on offer. Industry experts agree that from a consumer perspective, there’s never been a better time to travel, both domestically and internationally.

“Right now, the market is flooded with never-before-seen deals on flights, car hire, and hotel accommodation. Now’s the time to take advantage!” says Stark.

Herman Heunes Bezuidenhout, Corporate Traveller Operations Manager agrees.

“We have not seen a big shift regarding pricing for both air and hotels in the past few months and do not expect any massive changes to happen in the near future. Airlines and hotels want to remain competitive while travel recovers. We actually see some airline and hotel prices reducing even further in order to optimise available capacity.”

5. Digital vaccination passports will be the key to free movement

Digital vaccination passports will likely become a ‘normal’ part of travel in the near future. Desai explains the technology necessary to make these passports happen already exists. It’s now simply about government willingness to integrate their systems into the various platforms.

“Vaccination is vital,” says Desai. “It’s the way the world’s moving. We’re all pushing to get South Africa up to European vaccination standards. The goal is to have 67% of all adults vaccinated by the end of the year. As a result, corporate travel will naturally come back stronger. People are ready to travel again – just give them the choice and the mandate!”

Foster agrees and says: “We all have to learn to live with COVID. it’s the new norm. Society will be led by what is responsible for all, which is why I believe access to travel, and any public place for that matter, will soon be restricted to those carrying a vaccination pass.”

Right now, vaccination is not mandatory for boarding an aircraft, says Fouad Caunhye, Qatar Airways Regional Manager. However, just because it isn’t mandatory to board doesn’t mean it won’t be a requirement at the arrival destination.

“It’s a difficult issue to manage as all countries have different requirements. Some require proof of a negative PCR test, while others require proof of vaccination for the traveller to avoid quarantine. At the end of the day, proof of vaccination is key to shaking off a variety of restrictions and ensuring seamless, stress-free movement from one country to the next,” he explains.

The future…?

Change is inevitable, but one thing’s for sure, according to Foster. “The world is Zoomed out and Teams fatigued. Nothing beats face-to-face interactions. Corporate travel will resume. It’s high time we get back to business as usual,” Foster concludes.

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