The recovery of business travel: a news roundup

Eoin Landers
Eoin Landers

July 24 ∙ 4 minutes read

A couple of months ago, we discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the future of travel, providing a roundup of what industry specialists thought would happen next. It barely covered the debate about when flight schedules would resume as each country tried to deal with national lockdowns. Instead, predictions were about one trip meetings disappearing, companies doubling down on digital transformation and the controversial retroactive changes to travel supplier policies. You can read the roundup here.

But we’re now well and truly in the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic with countries out of lockdown and opening up borders to aid economic recovery. Things still, of course, remain unclear as to what extent business travel will return and when. So this news roundup brings together a selection of the latest stories seen over the last few weeks.

There’s a growing expectation that business travel will resume in the next 3 months

London City airport, which suspended all commercial passenger flights between 25 March and 21 June, recently conducted a survey of almost 5,000 passengers in June and found 41 per cent anticipate flying for business in the next three months. 

Encouraging signs and backed up by further traveller surveys that reveal there is definitely an increasing sense of businesses needing their employees to travel.  

Key business travel routes are relaunching

The recent relaunch of flying schedules only strengthens this. Lufthansa has just announced it will resume flying between Frankfurt and London City airport on 7 September, operating two services per day on the popular business route.

While Virgin Atlantic, which had a three-month-long hiatus due to the outbreak of the pandemic, is relaunching flights from London’s Heathrow to Hong Kong and New York’s JFK.

And KLM resumed flights to China this week after a five-month suspension, offering one flight a week, including a stop in South Korea.  

Using corporate travel as an indicator for demand

Meanwhile, some airlines are increasing the frequency with which they consult with corporate clients in an attempt to better understand demand. In the absence of flight route data due to the lack of flying since March, United Airlines has reached out to corporate customers asking them to volunteer information on when and where they expect to start sending employees on business. 

Traveller safety: tick box or real concern?

Interestingly, recent news on the return of business travel indicates that guaranteeing traveller safety isn’t the top trigger for companies resuming business travel (89%). Instead, it’s the easing or lifting of border restriction (93%). Obviously a close second but still not the top result you’d expect.   

What has been widely discussed is how traveller safety will impact the travel flying experience. Forget about headphones, pillows, blankets, food and drinks service we’ve all become accustomed to. Those days are over. Airline service-cutting is deemed essential to reduce the number of touchpoints on any given flight – reducing opportunities for close contact between flyers and the crew. 

But meetings still matter

It’s clear we’re all wondering what the future holds, especially for business travel. Meetings still matter but not at the expense of health. And when you consider the blanket cancellation of in-person meetings, events and conferences coupled with the threat of teleworking on demand, we know the business travel world will never be the same. 

However, what it does offer is opportunity. As McKinsey recently advised, leaders now need to accelerate their journey to the cloud once and for all in order to digitise quickly and effectively in the wake of Covid-19. 

Senior technology executives should be pushing to accelerate business transformation efforts now – in order to be in a better position moving out of country lockdowns.

Eoin Landers

Eoin Landers