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The Future of Business Travel after COVID-19

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It’s with great empathy that I point out the obvious: this has been a chaotic few weeks in the travel community, and there’s no way to know how long this uncertainty will continue. But I’ve already been inspired by the way travel managers, HR, technology partners, and other leaders have come together to prioritize the safety of travelers and our communities.

With millions of dollars and thousands of business trips running through our platform each month, Rocketrip is uniquely positioned to see how enterprise travelers (and their HR/travel management teams) are reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the majority of Rocketrip customers are still allowing critical domestic travel, it’s unsurprising that we have seen the rate of flight cancellations more than double since the new coronavirus first made national news in January.

Here at Rocketrip’s NYC HQ, where the majority of employees take public transit, we are announcing today that our teams should all work remotely to help contribute to the safety of our families and neighbors. We have also made the difficult decision to limit our business travel and conference attendance for the remainder of March. (If you haven’t read up on the societal benefits of flattening the curve, here’s a piece I found informative.)

I want to affirm our support for all our clients and partners during this time — along with our commitment to traveler safety. And I want to offer some forward-looking perspective from my conversations with finance, HR, and travel leaders.

What will business travel look like in the remainder of 2020?

Business travel is a vital part of economic success and business continuity, and of course our hope is that it will be able to safely continue soon. Unfortunately, there are factors even beyond COVID-19 containment to consider — increasingly, it looks like the economy will feel the ramifications of this after coronavirus containment succeeds. After discussions with our board of directors and the other execs at Rocketrip, I’m making some predictions for what the remainder of the year will look like in business travel:

Prediction 1: We’ll find new balances between business travel and remote work.

This one seems obvious, but businesses will quickly move to redefine business critical travel even after the risks from COVID-19 wind down. This is a huge opportunity for travel managers to step in and represent the voice of the traveler in conversations with procurement and finance teams; you’re the ones hearing the traveler's needs and concerns day-in and day-out. 

I also talk regularly to benefits managers and procurement leaders about sustainability goals, and I expect those conversations to also become even more elevated once travel programs resume fully. Some travel platforms and managers allow organizations that have invested in video conferencing to inform staff of this option during their travel booking process, and we’re also exploring ways to bring more sustainability innovation into our roadmap.

Prediction 2: Crisis communication planning and duty of care will take priority in travel management.

The unprecedented global scale of COVID-19 concerns demonstrates every business needs to prioritize duty of care more than ever — particularly at large, global organizations. But it’s also increasingly important to be giving the next generation of travelers freedom of choice and building a high-quality travel culture. Innovative tech partners will be critical to giving travel managers a holistic view of where their people are and how to reach them. Tracking employees in spreadsheets is not a scalable solution, and every bit of unmanaged spend equals a future risk to employee safety. 

I also want to take this time to shout out some of the unsung heroes during a travel crisis: our partners at travel management companies. We work with some of the best and most innovative partners, and this pandemic — although the short-term travel decline is a challenge — helps demonstrate the value of a well-managed travel program and having expert resources to rely on.

Prediction 3: Travel culture will take a front seat in employee benefits.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. With the importance of business travel highlighted by its temporary halt — and the risks of business travel highlighted by the spread of COVID-19 — it’s going to be more important than ever to foster a positive travel culture that reflects your company’s values. As mentioned above, travel culture and programs are a reason your talent stays or leaves. 

HBR notes, “Failing to treat travel as a strategic investment with business value can impact a company’s employee value proposition in a competitive talent market and set its overall corporate goals back.” Remember that continuing development conferences were often the first to be cancelled, impacting employee growth and potentially job satisfaction over the next few years.

How Rocketrip will continue to support safe business travel

I want to close by emphasizing our commitment to building a product that provides value not only in corporate savings and employee happiness, but also in increased safety of your travelers. We have invested deeply in ensuring duty of care is embedded in the Rocketrip platform, and using Rocketrip increases OBT compliance by 20% — meaning you have more information and tools to keep your travelers safe.

For our Rocketrip customers and partners: we’re here to support you and your travelers. Whether we’re working remotely or it’s business as usual, our mission is to help you navigate these challenges and ensure your teams are safe while supporting your best-in-class travel programs. Please continue to lean on our teams for support and continue to share your ideas on how our platform can improve your travel program.

Dan Ruch is the CEO and founder of Rocketrip.

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