As much as we hate to admit it, the 2019 novel coronavirus, officially named COVID-19 has become a worldwide pandemic, spreading to approximately 140 countries around the world.
Business travel management is acutely affected by the knock-on affects of the virus
As large meetings become illegal in countries and corporates impose travel bans, the travel manager is faced with a lot of uncertainty.
At this stage, who knows what the future may hold. In the travel and meetings business, where travel and meetings activity needs an increased amount of risk assessment and management, your job is now more important than ever.
Risk needs to be monitored and policy changes need to be made and put into action. Travel managers can take the following steps to ensure they are prepared for the impact to their travel programmes and overall work life:
1. Place business travel bans for some, if not most countries.
As I am sure you are aware, many countries have travel restrictions on foreign nationals entering their borders. These countries include Italy, America, Australia, Ireland, France, Spain and many others.
Most recently, countries like Germany closed their borders, following a total of seven EU states who have closed their borders in response to the pandemic while Italy remains in a state of total lockdown.
The US has restricted travel – banning all non-citizens travelling to the US from Europe. America, along with others, have now declared a State of Emergency responding to the pandemic.
If the travel is not banned by the state, corporates are still pushing travel bans on all travel within the organisation itself on travel to all or certain countries. On March 20 this year, GBTA surveyed their network of travel managers to find that at least 85% have cancelled trips to China with 70% cancelling all trips to Hong Kong and 25% cancelling trips to Europe.
Due to the global spread of COVID-19, corporates are encouraged to stop travel altogether – placing a ban on travel for the time-being until spread of the virus diminishes and more cases recover. In the GBTA survey, 20% of respondants’ companies cancelled all international travel.
This will ensure that traveller safety is top priority and no employee health is negatively impacted due to the travel programme.
2. Encourage virtual working using technology.
Social distancing has become the chief method in stopping the spread of COVID-19. This involves avoiding large gatherings, public places and meetings while maintaining around six feet (two metres) between yourself and another person when possible.
Some countries, like Italy, have banned all social gatherings. Social distancing is strongly encouraged in fighting COVID-19 and has been increasingly put into practice in the workplace.
Many corporate companies are opting to make working from home compulsory so employee safety is considered and spread of COVID-19 is minimised.
Most company servers are cloud-based or have VPN access for their employees so remote working is possible in most industries. Video conferencing software like Zoom, Hangouts, Skype, GoToMeeting and many others allow meetings to still take place so collaboration is possible.
Working from home can be beneficial. On average, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year. The trick is being disciplined and keeping teams on track.
Encourage daily ten minute catchups to make sure your team continues to perform in the same way, if not better, when not at the office.
3. Use risk management to update duty of care policies and procedures.
What is most important, as a travel manager, is ensuring that managers and HR are informed of any risky travel and that employees can be taken care of and quarantined if necessary.
Conduct risk assessments and update current policies with any travel bans or restrictions you and stakeholders have discussed as necessary. Information on risk for each country can be found on the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. Research and develop a knowledge base on travel restrictions for each country.
This is a lot of information so it is encouraged to implement a risk assessment analysis where up-to-date data determines policy.
Once the policy has been changed, send a thoughtful communication out to travellers informing them of changes. If any travel has been booked that does not comply with the new policy, ensure cancellations are made and appropriate communication takes place.
Ensure proper approval processes are now in place and all relevant department heads are aware of new policy changes.
All this will require you to work with multiple stakeholders, including Senior Management, Department Heads, HR and travellers themselves. Regular communication and updates will ensure that everyone feels safe.
4. Monitor the supply chain.
The travel supply chain has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many airlines closing down some of their routes including Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Easyjet, Norwegian Airlines, South African Airways and many more.
In the first week of March, British airline Flybe, collapsed into bankruptcy amid the disruption caused by the coronavirus.
Travel managers therefore need to make sure that their negotiated rates for agreed routes are still being honoured and, if these routes become obsolete, alternative negotiations can be made.
Cancellation and booking alteration fees are also different according to each airline. Some airlines, including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta Airlines and many more are waiving their cancellation fees as a good-will gesture. Currently, we do not know how long they intend to keep these policy changes. Make sure you and, if necessary, travellers know which of your suppliers will be able to accommodate cancellation and booking changes. Ensure that waiver usage and unused tickets are tracked so that they can be picked up once the bans lift.
Hotel properties and airlines also need to ensure proper hygiene standards and prevention measures are put in place for their passengers and guests. If travel is still going ahead, make sure your suppliers are upholding these standards so travellers can be kept as safe as possible.
5. Pre-trip data is now a necessity, not an option.
We cannot put any prevention measures in place if we do not know where our travellers are booking before they leave for the airport. If your country does not have a pre-trip feed in place, now is an excellent time to do so.
While travel bans are in place, implement a pre-trip feed that consolidates with the HR data feed so you can measure any impact and attribute it to each employee.
With this analysis, you should be able to have the following information:
- Data on all existing reservations the company has booked.
- Reporting on team members who have travelled to impacted areas and other employees they were with on the trip.