May 28, 2024

10 reasons to be cheerful

As the business travel industry celebrates the UK Government's decision to relax some travel restrictions, here are 10 other reasons why we should be starting the year feeling positive

1. We’re better protected and better prepared

Despite new variants and the reinstating of some restrictions and testing requirements in key business destinations, the world is still better protected from the impact of the pandemic than it was at the start of 2021.

“We’re now much better equipped to deal with uncertainty and the vagaries of variants and short-notice (often knee-jerk) changes in policy,” says Peter Gerstle, Head of Travel Products at Collinson. “Although it might not always feel this way, there is emerging standardisation in the area of health status. Only a handful of Covid test and vaccination status standards have survived the early-day gold rush and there is further alignment to come in 2022.”

Pippa Ganderton, Product Director ATPI Halo, agrees: “We’ve come a long way compared to a year ago, with the introduction of vaccines allowing for the return of more flights to more destinations and making necessary travel less restriction-heavy. As vaccine rollouts increase globally, the outlook for 2022 is far more positive for business travel.”

2. Sustainability has stepped up another gear

It’s been creeping up the agenda for the last few years but, rather than just being something we talk about – a lot – we are finally making firm commitments to sustainable business travel and giving it the full attention it deserves.

“There is now a re-energised awareness of sustainable activities and an increased passion for ensuring their implementation across the industry following major events such as COP26,” says Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association. “2022 brings a new dawn of sustainable urgency and it is incredibly exciting to be at the forefront of this change.”

Aman Pourkarimi, Head of Consulting Gray Dawes Group, says COP26 has helped make sustainability goals “a must have, rather than a nice to have”. But he warns: “Travel managers must explore various carbon measurement approaches and work out how they can influence travel sustainably through identifying low-carbon emitting suppliers, rather than stunting business continuity and traveller comfort through restricting travel and/or downgrading class.”

3. The appetite for travel is strong

Half of global senior finance professionals interviewed by the GBTA at the end of 2021 expect their company’s business travel spend to reach 2019 levels in 2022 while 86% of business travellers report that they need to travel to meet their business goals. 

UK TMCs reported a surge in international bookings as soon as restrictions were lifted, particularly when transatlantic routes restarted.

Ewan Kassir, Head of Global Sales at Clarity, says from September to November 2021 the TMC saw a significant month-on-month increase in trips booked and revenue. “November saw us hit levels we didn’t expect to see until later in quarter one 2022. This is great news and an indication the appetite for travellers and businesses to be on the move is strong.”

Debbie Male, Head of Europe Sales, IHG Hotels & Resorts, adds: “The future is bright for some segments of travel, particularly domestic, SMEs, and corporate transient, which are all helping business travel make a comeback. We ultimately believe corporate travel will continue to recover with some industries bouncing back faster than others.”

Salv Silvera, General Manager London & Southeast at CTM UK, adds: “Even with the latest announcement of the Omicron variant I believe customers are becoming fatigued with Covid and will want to travel regardless.” 

4. Face-to-Face is still King

When the business world started to open up again at the end of summer 2021, we couldn’t wait to get back to in-person events. Later, when restrictions on international travel were lifted, the sharp rise in demand demonstrated the strength of our desire to see each other face-to-face.

“Businesses have reconsidered that, while virtual platforms delivered during the pandemic, the return to live meetings and events is still a major consideration within business planning and relationship management and with more corridors reopening, this provides opportunities of reengagement, reconnection and experience as an international traveller and delegate,” says Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of Advantage Travel Partnership.

5. Business travel is no longer seen as just a cost centre

“There’s been an enforced period of reflection where many travel buyers have reassessed not just priorities but what fundamentally drives the need for business travel,” says Barry Fleming, Head of Marketing, Blue Cube Travel.

“In what is an exciting and potentially seismic shift, many organisations are moving away from treating travel as simply a controllable cost of doing business and are instead getting to grips with how it drives value for a business by treating it as an investment that supports commercial goals.”

Erik Magnuson, Vice President Product Management, Mobility & Payments CWT, agrees: “No longer just a cost centre, travel is now a key enabler of company goals – a fusion between corporate responsibility, traveller wellbeing, programme performance and overall return on investment.”

6. New types of business travel are emerging

While some initially predicted a sharp fall in internal business travel, remote working has, in fact, led to the emergence of new types of business travel, bringing opportunities for corporate travel and meetings managers.

“Future of work strategies mean that the commute will move to becoming business travel in many situations, and small meetings will thrive as companies exchange real estate for more fluid meeting space,” says Paul Tilstone, Managing Partner at Festive Road.

IHG’s Debbie Male agrees: “As we see less people return to offices, corporate travel will actually have an even more important role to play in client interactions, so people will likely spend more time travelling for business than to their own office.”

7. The travel manager role has been elevated

“The extraordinary expertise and stakeholder engagement that buyers demonstrate routinely will become even more priceless in the new era of travel,” says Scott Davies, CEO at ITM.

“As business travel resumes, it will require far more attention and touch than ever before owing to complexities arising from Brexit, PSD2 and Covid-related measures, to name just three dynamics. Travel managers will play a key part in consulting with senior management and educating relevant stakeholders, not just on these complexities, but also the narrative around sustainability and meeting net-zero carbon targets.”

Mike Orchard, Festive Road Principal APAC, believes: “Emerging from the tough times of the pandemic, the travel manager role and its strategic importance is flourishing like never before. Travel managers around the world are broadening their sphere of influence within their companies and driving the debate about the value of travel, often at C-suite level.

“Travel managers have never had so much opportunity to directly link the outcomes of corporate travel to delivery of the company strategy.”

Peter Grover, Managing Director of EMEA for TRIPBAM, adds: “Professionals who were primarily focused on ‘blocking and tackling’ have now become strategic leaders and authorities within their companies on the vital topic of travel. In 2022 we expect travel managers to further innovate and expand their roles as they take greater ownership over strategic programme performance and safety and risk management, as well as drive sustainability objectives.”

8. Travel is getting simpler

 “The very act of being able to travel again has got to be a key reason to be happy in 2022,” says Nicola Cox, Director MIDAS Travel. “For travel bookers, this will become simpler again. With global drives to work together, we only see travel getting easier.

“There will be a shift towards eradicating paperwork and complex entry processes for individual countries, and a move towards more universal standards. The pandemic has highlighted better ways to work together and systems will continue to get better.”

9. We know what we’re up against

“In all likelihood, vaccines, tests and passes are here to stay and business travellers might have additional needs,” says GlobalStar Travel Management CEO James Stevenson. “But if the last 20 months have taught us anything at all, it is that we are resourceful, resilient, and stronger than we ever anticipated – all reasons to be cheerful.”

10. We’re still in this together

We said it at the start of 2021 and we’ll say it again: the pandemic crisis has brought the business travel community together in ways never before seen. The camaraderie that shone through on LinkedIn and in virtual webinars was even more apparent when we all finally got to see each other face-to-face, as anyone at the Business Travel People Awards in September will testify. What a buzz!

“Lockdown has provided a unique opportunity to pause and reflect and the trials and tribulations have enforced a great sense of communal industry strength,” says the BTA’s Clive Wratten. “As the fallout from Covid-19 continues and its associated challenges endure, the travel community’s united power is an exciting outcome of the pandemic and we will make every effort to nurture this over 2022.”

Melanie Quinn, Head of Sales and Customer Relations, Clyde Travel Management, sums it up nicely: “This renewed humanity is something to continue to harness and celebrate across the industry in 2022. So much good has come from it.”