It seems that, finally, the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel is in sight—at least in some parts of the world.

Charting a safe and effective road map for future corporate travel requires all players to collaborate. Key players in the ecosystem—suppliers (including airlines, hotels, car-rental and rideshare companies), corporate-travel planners, travel intermediaries such as online travel agencies (OTAs), global-distribution-system (GDS) providers, and travelers themselves—need to master four critical skills: leveraging real-time data, planning with agility, aiming for comfort and safety, and communicating with clarity.

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Leverage real-time data

Planning for the future can feel like flying through a fog of uncertainty, which makes it even more important for players to leverage real-time data to inform their decision-making. Organizations could invest in data capabilities to identify and monitor the first signs of an acceleration in business travel.

OTAs and GDS providers may be worth exploring as new data sources. Travel intermediaries such as these are uniquely situated to provide aggregate data for each industry. Many corporate travel planners are also concerned about the fluctuations in the cost and availability of tickets, given the volatility of flight schedules during this time. Intermediaries can provide data that suggest which flights are more likely to stay on an airline’s schedule, helping clients build more agility into their decision-making. Intermediaries may be able to create a new revenue stream from these data.

Real-time data also helps suppliers of corporate travel, such as air carriers and hotels, become more agile. As corporate travel returns, these suppliers will need to deploy the right resources in real-time to match demand, which may shift abruptly.

Embed agility into planning

It pays to have a detailed plan and strategy for different recovery scenarios in place. When demand picks up, many firms may find that they don’t have the time to pause and think through their strategies.

When it comes to organizing business trips for employees, corporate-travel planners will need to take into account four considerations:

  • First, the factors that affect whether corporate travel should increase: for example, local and regional infection levels, customer demand, and competitive actions.
  • Second, the relevant data sources used to evaluate these factors: public-health indicators, customer surveys, data from travel partners on industry trends and competitor behavior, and real-time pricing from GDSs consistent with typical corporate agreements, even as airline-fare classes go through realignments.
  • Third, company policies on business travel: What distance-based policies should staff adhere to? Should they use rental cars, rideshares, taxis, or flights? When should they wear masks or engage in group gatherings? How (and should) companies distinguish between what activities vaccinated and unvaccinated employees can participate in?
  • Fourth, the information needed by travelers including websites, travel help desks, and messaging.

Personalize experiences based on safety and comfort

Safety and comfort are crucial elements in the travel experience, and they can sometimes pull in opposite directions. More can be done to bridge this gap. Both employers and travel companies could find ways to give passengers peace of mind and improve comfort and convenience. The guiding principle here is giving the traveler greater control over decisions that affect their sense of comfort and security.

For instance, airlines can personalize flight experiences by improving the functionality of their mobile apps to allow passengers to preorder their meals and snacks or make special requests. Hotels may let guests decide on the frequency and timing of housekeeping.

Communicate with clarity

Even the most seasoned travelers have to accept that traveling has changed. Masks have become ubiquitous, and border restrictions, boarding procedures, and hygiene requirements seem to be ever-changing. It’s critical that organizations communicate clearly what their corporate-travel policies are at any given moment in time, for every stage of the journey—from pre- to post-trip.

It helps for organizations to be extra proactive in communicating any type of change, whether regarding company-wide strategic policies or more granular details such as the company’s preferred rideshare or car-rental options for corporate travel. When changes in operations are made, companies can take special care to ensure the availability of amenities. Employees, too, will go through an adjustment period as they resume their business trips.

Source: McKinsey & Company

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