Travel 15th January 2021 - 5 min read

Top 7 business travel trends in 2021

By Joni Lindes

After the chaos that plagued the travel industry in 2020, many industry players are holding out for a more hopeful 2021. What will be the top travel trends in 2021?

Once a return to travel occurs, the pandemic will have a lasting impact on the way travel suppliers provide their services and the way travel will be managed going forward.

Although 2020 has proven that we can’t predict anything. After all, many trends at the start of 2020 did not see a pandemic lowering travel volume by 60 – 70%, we still need to map a way forward as we plan our strategies and budgets for the year ahead.

With this in mind, see our top trends in 2021:

1. Agency consolidation

With no meaningful volume and revenue until (at least) the second quarter of 2021, many agencies will struggle to meet rent and staffing expenses. This does not always mean closure, rather some agencies will close while others will merge together. Joselyn, president and CEO of Joselyn Consulting Group predicts that, similar to what happened following 9/11 and the airline commission cuts in the 1990s, about 20% of U.S. agencies will close and 20% will come out of the crisis in a different form — perhaps merged with another agency or acquired by another agency.

Consolidation, as one of the top travel trends in 2021, has some benefits for the buyer. In a saturated market, fewer players would lead to less brand confusion, better economies of scale and better leverage for supplier negotiations.

2. Flexible booking

In 2020, many airlines waived their change fees and allowed vouchers and credits to be issued for future flights, instilling consumer confidence to book more travel. In 2021, this practice will continue. Buyers will need to develop a strategy for tracking their cancelled air tickets and making use of credits and vouchers before they expire. They also need to incorporate the use of flexible tickets, credits and vouchers into their programme policy as, depending on their expiration dates, these tickets will be in use throughout 2021 and even 2022.

Luckily PredictX has developed a tool for this. Our Air Ticket Status Analytics tracks used and unused tickets and when they expire while providing status on refunds received (via TMC or credit card etc).

Learn more about PredictX Air Ticket Status Analytics.

In spite of flexible airline policies, travellers will be leaving the booking of trips to the last minute as border restrictions continue to change rapidly for each country. In 2021, advanced purchases promises to be low.

3. Domestic travel

Due to the continuation of travel restrictions into 2021, IATA predicts domestic travel to be the first to start regaining the same kind of demand we saw in 2019.

This is not only due to international travel restrictions. The rise of working from home would mean that many existing employees have relocated to areas outside cities. New employees hired in 2020 may also not be geographically close to the company’s offices. As many companies like Twitter switch to permanently working from home, the trip to an office venue for a meeting for local staff may start counting as business travel. A rise in domestic business travel will soon follow.

4. Digital nomads

In 2021, we may see permanent change to the way the workplace is structured. If employees realise that all they need for work is Wi-Fi, a laptop and enough time to get the work done, those drawn to a nomadic lifestyle will soon take advantage of the freedoms of working from home and adjust, so they can, indeed, work from anywhere.

In 2020, major hotel group Accor promoted a work-from-hotel model that targeted employees seeking a better balance from the work from home life and a change of scenery. Employees would book bedrooms that served as makeshift offices for the day.

Destinations hit by the global halt in travel have also started to target nomadic workers to make up for the loss of tourist income. Barbados was one of the first to launch a “digital nomad” visa in July 2020. Since then, a wave of other countries have announced similar programmes, including Estonia, Georgia and Croatia and, most recently, Anguilla.

5. Sustainability

Before the halt in travel volume in 2020, sustainability was more than just a buzzword. Many companies felt pressure from their customers, investors, and in some countries, government regulations, to reduce and report on their company’s carbon emissions and introduce more sustainable practices.

The halt in travel volume, may have, by default, reduced emissions but that doesn’t mean that companies are not looking to achieve sustainability-focused goals. Many companies are striving to become carbon-neutral beyond 2021 and airlines, hotels and ground transport suppliers must cater to these goals by providing the same services with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, less waste and a greater focus on environmental impact.

Essential to a company achieving carbon neutrality is the ability to track, analyse and report on the company’s carbon footprint. Those with the analytics to support this stand to be able to better serve both their travellers and their customers in the future.

6. Touchless technology

In a recent survey conducted by Censuswide, more than four in five travellers said technology would increase their confidence to travel in the next 12 months.

Apps that deliver up-to-date notifications on border restriction changes and flight changes and cancellations, as well as contactless payment technology and virtual wallets, will make travellers feel safer when going abroad.

Contactless payment and virtual wallets started becoming popular in 2014, yet, due to Covid-19, they have now become a necessity. Travel and expense managers can also use virtual wallets with a preloaded budget and approved vendors authorized so out-of-policy spend does not occur.

7. Greater focus on traveller compliance

With so much uncertainty, travel managers are under increased pressure to ensure traveller safety and avoid any risky bookings. Hence, policy compliance will no longer be optional. In the earlier days of the pandemic, the tighter a travel programme was managed, the easier it was to locate travellers and ensure safety.

“The duty of care factor is always been important, but never really as enforced as it should be,” veteran travel manager Jack Reynaert said in a BTN article. “If they book their air, car, and hotel through your TMC, you know what hotel, you know what city they’re going through, what flights they are on, what hotel they are staying at. And if you start getting high compliance with corporate credit card usage, you actually can go into the tool and know in more detail where people are.”

The reporting process may become more streamlined as companies start to realise the value of a pre-trip data feed pulled directly from the GDS or other booking system (OBT, direct) showing booking information before travellers start their trip. That way, out of policy or risky bookings can be caught earlier on instead of causing any potential issues.

PredictX offers pre-trip data along with many other programme performance insights in our next-generation data analytics suite. If you would like to know more about PredictX and how our offerings can help you navigate the top trends in 2021, book a free consultation with a member of our team.

Joni Lindes
By Joni Lindes
5 min read

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