Social distancing and public travel don’t mix. And that combination led to a steep decline not only with leisure travelers but business ones as well. In 2019, people took nearly 470 million business trips. Now, CNBC reports business travel is down more than 80%. But Zoom calls simply can’t replace the in-person meetings, transactions, and inspections that still need to happen. So, what does business travel look like in the years ahead?
Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian has said it could take 2 or 3 years for business to bounce back. Meanwhile, airlines are rerouting flights away from business hubs. However, as safety increases with vaccination rollout, those business travelers will be itching to get back to business as usual. While the lasting effects of COVID-19 will be felt for years, here’s how travel will change for suit-wearing jet setters.
Business Travel Season Will Increase
Traditionally, January and February are slow months in private aviation. Historically, after the winter season, flight bookings increase gradually around late March. This year may be a bit delayed. However, I anticipate a dramatic increase in activity beyond the classic busy season due to the past year of restrictions. Companies will want to make up for a lost time. That backlog will undoubtedly roll out well beyond the spring and summer and into the typically slower colder months.
Trips Will Be Shorter (Or Longer)
Pre-COVID business travelers would stay in an area for roughly a week. Now, that length of time away is going to opposite ends of the spectrum. To minimize exposure and time away from home, those travelers are now just away for a weekend. To abide by various vaccination rules and reduce frequent travel, those same travelers could spend a month in a destination. For the next couple of years, travel restrictions will likely dictate these lengths of stay. And company safety precautions would limit lengths of stay.
Larger Teams Will Travel Together
Companies are restructuring how they approach their business, and many are allowing workers to work remotely beyond the pandemic. This will ignite a trend where team members are likely to travel together regularly to get that vital face time. Plus, efficacy and safety are key factors in increased team travel. For those who will have to return to an office setting, it would be better to have groups of employees travel at one time versus a steady stream of people coming and going. This could reduce exposure as travel schedules are more controlled. It could also create scenarios where teams hit several locations in one trip rather than spreading it out over time.
Smaller Companies Will Use Private Air Travel
The pandemic has no doubt created an opportunity for private aviation. Each company is in the process of outlining its strategy as related to travel in a growing vaccinated environment. Private travel throughout 2021 and beyond is the best solution to reduce the odds of exposure while overcoming the anxiety and potential liability of sending employees into an ever-changing environment. In fact, I even see many small and medium-sized businesses looking into private aviation as flexible options–like affordable daily rates and jet cards–become available.
It’s important to note that ateam travel approach will increase the number of “lower-ranked” employees experiencing private air travel. Pre-COVID, top executives only might have traveled privately. Now, the increased private jet use for other business functions means non-executives will get to hit the road too. A team of engineers, for example, could fly to several job sites to check on their status (a job necessity). It would make sense safety and efficiency-wise to send them privately rather than on individual trips, especially remote workers.
While some say that business travel will be cut significantly in the years ahead, my experience shows that it’s just going to change. Yes, those changes will be significant, but they will perhaps be better in terms of efficiency for companies and opportunities for employees. There will be a new definition for business as usual.