Can Corporate Travel Take off Again? – Travel Weekly

Business travel has a place in the post-pandemic, net-zero future, argues Rick Lewis of BCG

With aircraft grounded and first-class lounges empty, the Covid-19 pandemic coupled with longer-term climate change concerns appears to have irrevocably affected business travel.

Why cross international borders if you can meet on Zoom? Yet, after 18 months of lockdowns, corporate travel is once again on the rise.

A recent survey projects US business travel in the fourth quarter of this year will reach 25%-35% of 2019 Q4 levels, a significant improvement from the 10%-15% levels in the second quarter of 2021.

The announcement in mid-August that a new Covid-19 test, much faster and cheaper than PCR tests, could be introduced across airports is also encouraging.

However, with the growing Delta variant and the phenomenal rise of corporate sustainability commitments across industries, will business travel ever reach pre-pandemic levels? And if it does, what will it look like?

We don’t expect a full return to normal for business travel until 2023 or beyond, with the US returning faster and Europe and the UK returning more slowly.

With high vaccine coverage now a reality in many developed nations, we’re expecting a short-term spike in travel as people re-energise in-person relationships with customers and colleagues before they reach their ‘future normal’.

Research from business software company SAP found 96% of business travellers surveyed “willing to travel for business over the next 12 months”.

Our discussions with clients suggest just under 50% of travel managers are considering reducing their travel budgets. However, as new variants emerge, it won’t be a linear return to the new normal. Rather we expect seasonal peaks in the coming months and years depending on the severity of the pandemic.

Of course, Covid-19 is not the only factor. A record number of companies are committing to ambitious sustainability goals and many are looking to re-evaluate business travel.

At BCG we aim to cut 30% of our emissions from business travel by 2025. To achieve this, we’re trialling several initiatives including an online booking tool which shows employees their carbon footprint and the estimated emissions of each travel option, highlighting the more environmentally friendly modes of transport.

In the UK, we will innovate and transform to reduce business travel emissions by at least 50% by 2025 compared with our 2018 baseline year.

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