The impact of COVID-19 on the future of travel: a news roundup

Eoin Landers
Eoin Landers

June 12 ∙ 6 minutes read

It was 11:59pm on 31st December 2019, New Year’s Eve, and we were just about to welcome in a new decade. Some were looking forward to continued health and happiness, others new starts and perhaps new careers. What we were blissfully unaware of was that a defining moment of the decade was around the corner – and so early on too.

I don’t think any of us could have quite imagined the effect a global pandemic would have on the entire world. Like other businesses focused on business travel, the impact on us has been significant, but thankfully not disastrous. And whilst every country is confronting the coronavirus pandemic in its own way, many that went into lockdowns in March are now entering a new phase.

This next phase, of moving in the direction of opening up and resuming economic activity wherever possible, is both gradual and unpredictable. All we can do is sit and watch, patiently. Here in Seattle, I was able to eat out at a restaurant last night. In London where some of my colleagues are located, they still can’t see people outside of their household unless outdoors.

We’re all wondering what the future holds, and especially for us, what it holds for business travel. We still believe meetings matter but not at the expense of health or revenue. So here I’ve compiled a roundup of what industry specialists think will happen next – and it’s barely even about when they think flight schedules will resume.

And just like that, travel is gone

“This is not the end of a Hollywood blockbuster or a great new advert. It is the end of corporate travel as we have come to know and love it for more than 20 years,” commented travel tech innovator and friend of mine, Johnny Thorsen back in April.

Not only due to the restricted movement of people and lower demand for flights but what this means for the industry’s talent. Many companies have already had to downsize and this exit will invariably lead to a lower level of innovation, which will result in a slower recovery from the crisis. Travel needs smart, intelligent and open systems to operate effectively for the business and the traveller. 

Article via BTN Europe.

The one meeting trip will disappear

In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson predicts that the one-meeting trip will disappear forever. 

In recent decades, the low cost of travel has meant that it has been relatively cheap and certainly quite easy to hop on a flight for a day-trip or overnight stay to see a customer. I used to be a regular on the Eurostar for this exact type of trip since hotels in London were far too expensive. Companies will become laser-focused on spend and only if the trip benefits the bottom line, will travel be approved. 

Doubling down on digital transformation during the coronavirus pandemic

According to CIO.com, senior technology executives are pushing to accelerate business transformation efforts now – in order to be in a better position moving out of country lockdowns. 

The likelihood is that many businesses will have already implemented major technological changes in a very short space of time. This TrustRadius blog explored the explosive growth of searches for specific software industry sectors recently: telemedicine, electronic signature software and video conferencing aren’t big surprises.  

But this points to a bigger picture. Now is a great time to explore the platforms you’re using. For example, if you’re a Salesforce customer, what apps could you add to your Salesforce stack that will enable you to succeed? I touched on this in my Abraham Lincoln inspired article on the ‘next four hours.’

Coronavirus won’t kill leisure or business travel, but it will change them significantly, perhaps forever

This interview featured in Forbes states that there’s no doubt the demand for air travel will come back, once the Covid-19 threat subsides. But the question is how much of a demand? Will it ever return to the same pre-virus levels? Should it? 

With regards to business travel, it’s likely to be focused on shorter journeys within regions such as Americans travelling within America, Europeans travelling within Europe and so on. 

One thing is for certain, unfortunately not every company in the travel and tourism sector will survive and it echoes the thoughts of Johnny who suggests looking at your travel technology stack now. You may need a new range of services to support the future travel programme – who can provide these in the most reliable, efficient and cost-effective way?

“This is likely to include startups that will deliver new services you once didn’t need,” he comments.

“Retroactive changes to travel supplier policies egregious, unethical” 

This opinion from the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) shows what’s happening behind the curtain. When you go to any major airline’s website, you’re likely to see: “if you purchased your ticket via a travel agent, then please deal with them directly for refunds.” This is disingenuous at best and a horrible lie at worst.  

In the initial stages of total lockdown, airlines halted all refunds for travel agents – even if the agency payment had already been accepted and processed by the airline. As a result, the travel agencies were used as circuit breakers to take the financial hit instead of the airline. This will have a massive impact on the future of travel distribution. If your distribution partner leaves you to die, the trust in the relationship will never be the same.

Article via Travel Agent Central.

Ultimately, the world of business travel will never be the same but the need to see and talk with people face to face will never be replaced through virtual means. We know that the way we used to justify, purchase and interact with business travel is now gone. It will be up to all of us to work together to define what we want the business travel of the future to look like.

Eoin Landers

Eoin Landers