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COVID-19 could mark a new era for business travel

26 Apr 2021

Brought to you by TravelPerk, the #1 business travel platform.

COVID-19 could mark a new era for business travel

In 1776, a Scottish inventor named James Watt created the steam engine. Importantly, it used steam instead of coal to perform its mechanical work. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain heavily relied on coal for its energy needs. Coal was and still remains, a finite, non-renewable energy source. That meant that the rate Britain was using coal was unsustainable. The steam engine was supposed to mark an alternative way to consume energy and lessen the strain on the country’s coal supply.

Here’s the funny thing, though. The steam engine didn’t decrease the UK’s use of coal. It actually increased it. That’s because of the Jevons Paradox. 

What’s the Jevons Paradox?

The 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons realized that the UK’s reliance on coal increased steadily, even with this new technological advancement. He posited that technological progress that allows for the more economical distribution of a specific resource will actually lead to greater use of that resource. 

So, if steam engines that were meant to decrease how much coal was used actually lead to it being even more in demand, then the same could hold true for any other innovation.

What does a 150-year-old economic theory have to do with travel?

As it turns out, a lot. The coronavirus proved to us all that digitization and virtualization are here to stay. It showed us that we could keep working, keep producing, and keep innovating while being physically separate from one another. In fact, this “virtual revolution” has been so strong that it even prompted world-class minds like Bill Gates to say that something like business travel will be reduced by 50%. 

Well, that’s what leading minds in Britain thought when the steam engine was invented. They thought—hey, we probably won’t be needing coal anymore now that we’ve got steam. By the same logic, virtualization and the shift to remote or hybrid working models won’t stop business travel (or, travel of any kind). It’ll actually empower it.

How going virtual will boost business travel

Man at airport with laptop

Business travel is all about personal connections. It’s about building relationships, sharing expertise, and using what makes us human to do business. The digital and virtual realms are here to support that, not replace it. We’re becoming increasingly more hybrid, in a world where one goes hand in hand with the other.

How does that apply to business travel?

1. Virtualization has brought on a need for a new kind of business trip

Tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams have shown us that companies don’t need to be based in one, centralized office anymore. Businesses are likely to start employing people in hubs spread around the world. That’ll bring about a new type of business trip—the kind where distributed teams travel to get together to work, play, and create. As “global companies” get even more globalized, new business needs for travel will arise.

2. Digital sales support face-to-face, but can’t replace it

Let’s face it (pun intended). Meeting someone in person is a competitive advantage in sales. Just think about it on a personal level—how many of the relationships you’ve built on Zoom can compare to ones you developed in person? It’s the same in business. Sales trips aren’t happening right now because of the travel restrictions in place worldwide. The second they ease up a bit, and one competitor starts traveling… You can bet they all will. It’s just good business.

3. The “virtual realm” will make business travel more efficient

There are many reasons why that’s true. First off, the coronavirus pandemic is leading company travel managers towards the use of travel management tools. These platforms make the entire booking process quicker, smoother, and more cost-effective. By using travel inventories made for managing business trips, the company’s travel budgets can go a lot further, and their travel managers have more time to do more. Secondly, companies are now more flexible with how we work and from where. That means that travelers can make their itineraries suit their own schedules while remaining connected. They can also seamlessly turn a business trip into a bleisure trip, saving both themselves and the company time and money. 

Blasting off into our new reality

Girl working on laptop

Our shift to the virtual world won’t eliminate the need for business travel. If anything, it’ll just make it better and more efficient. As we start navigating travel in the new normal, integrating technology with face-to-face business interaction will become commonplace. After spending a year apart, we’ll all find ways of being more connected both on and offline. 

So, what might business travel in the new normal look like?

You’ll start buying flexible fares

Flexibility was a challenge in business travel even before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. As we inch closer to a post-pandemic world, uncertainty and the need to quickly adapt to change will remain. That’s why at TravelPerk, we created FlexiPerk. It’s a service that enables you to change or cancel any aspect of a trip, anywhere, any time! We’ve seen a huge rise in demand for this since the start of the global health crisis.

You’ll need to stay on top of global travel restrictions

Yes, countries are starting to ease up their domestic and international travel restrictions. However, we’re still a long way away from having a single, standardized policy or regulation for entry requirements to different countries. To enter Spain, for example, you still need proof of a negative PCR test even if you’ve been vaccinated—but you can enter Slovenia freely if you’ve received both doses of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Astra Zeneca vaccinations. These differing rules and regulations aren’t going anywhere for the time being. That’s why it’s going to be so important for travelers and travel managers to stay up-to-date on all the latest restrictions both at the point of booking, and in the days leading up to a trip.

Green, sustainable travel won’t just be a nice-to-have

The French government, for example, recently moved to pass a bill banning short-hall internal flights where a rail alternative is possible. Countries worldwide are buckling down on commitments to climate change and sustainability—and companies with business travel programs should too. GreenPerk is a great way for TravelPerk customers to offset 100% of their carbon footprint on all business trips taken. With actionable insights and real-time reporting on a company’s emissions impact, travel managers can drive real change within their organizations to make their travel programs more environmentally-friendly.

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