29 May When can employees return to business travel?
International business travel is unlikely to rebound until after this pandemic has receded. Many countries, if they allow international arrivals, require 14 days of quarantine, and business travelers might be quarantined again on return home. International business will continue to use teleconferences and videoconferences for many months to come, and travel will only resume substantially when there is a vaccine, effective treatment, or herd immunity.
It is estimated that domestic travel will also remain limited in the coming months. Local areas that have new outbreaks will likely restrict movement, and a business traveler to such a region could be stranded there for weeks or months. “Everyone will have to learn how to be comfortable around people, especially in large airports, on crowded planes, and in very large convention hotels and resorts,” said Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group, a travel analysis firm in San Francisco. In a survey this month by the Global Business Travel Association, a trade group for corporate travel managers, nearly all its members said their employers had canceled or suspended all or most previously booked or planned international business travel, while 92 percent said all or most domestic business travel had been canceled or suspended. “The current crisis,” said John Snyder, chief executive of BCD Travel, one of the largest travel management companies, “is like nothing we’ve ever seen before.”
The latest findings of STR, a lodging research company, were equally stunning: In the week that ended April 11, hotel occupancy in the United States was down 70 percent from the same week in 2019, to 21 percent, and hotels’ revenue per available room, the major barometer of profitability, was down 84 percent to $15.61. These declines, said Jan Freitag, senior vice president of STR, are the “steepest” ever measured by the firm, whose data goes back to 1987.
Meanwhile, travel by personal car will come back first as this does not involve the risk of exposure to others. Travel by train, bus, and airplane will take longer to return, and when it does business travelers are likely to encounter limited schedules that could increase travel time. When necessary, travelers can stay in hotels as most have ramped up their cleaning and disinfection; however, it’s still wise to use disinfectants on surfaces. Business leaders must clearly communicate and enforce company travel guidelines as they evolve.