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Business Travel Collapse: Can the Recovery Suceed?

In the ITB.com virtual convention on 15 September, Christoph Garnier – President of VDR – the German Business Travel Association — spoke in detail about future prospects for global business travel.

Garnier announced details of the organisation’s annual Business Travel Report. It showed that in 2019, German-based companies spent €53.5bn on business travel in all its forms.

“This is not something that will disappear all of a sudden”, said Garnier, adding, “Sometimes when I read articles with people saying ‘business travel will disappear in the future’, it makes me a little bit angry.”

He says on the one hand, while it is a cost for the companies, one cannot really replace business travel, adding, “Getting back to business means also getting back to business travel.”

According to the VDR President, the majority of companies his organisation has been in contact with say they are looking forward to restarting business travel, to meet customers, or to bring together project groups.

Garnier quoted an industry study by Cambridge University – “Knowledge diffusion in the network of international business travel”, which he says points out the fact that a great deal of information and knowledge is transferred to others during a business trip – things that are not written in PowerPoints or other presentations; information which is shared in personal discussions and meetings.

VDR studies indicate a number of changes when it comes to priorities in travel management due to the Covid-19 crisis. 57% of respondents said the main priority was simply if and how a business trip might even be possible – along with how travellers can be protected. Another new priority is finding other options to travel altogether, such as online tools and web meetings.

Weekly surveys of member organisations showed evolving trends in a number of factors influencing decision-making. From April through September, constant growth has been noted in the importance of checking the necessity of travel more carefully; the is a stronger focus on risk factors; rising costs are becoming more and more important; the bankruptcy of some service providers is a growing threat; and more bureaucracy is involved – when travelling – as well as in-house when organising the travel.

Garnier points out the case of staff members who may already have some health issues, making the decision to take a business trip even more difficult. He puts the question as to whether travellers should feel compelled to share personal data with the company.

Insurance is another bugbear. On top of personal risks, is the cancellation of the trip covered?

He says the business travel sector has clear expectations: “We need a master plan, with clear rules and deadlines: consistent EU-wide approach, pooling regulations, recommendations and information, and opening-up borders with clear rules on exit and entry.”

VDR polled its members on the expected duration of restrictions, and most agreed that as soon as travel bans are lifted, business travel will recommence quite rapidly. Most of those surveyed also agreed that the restrictions would probably not remain in place for long after Q1, 2021.

Another factor surveyed by VDR was the potential reduction in travel spend post-Covid-19. While large disparities were noted, the average reduction was around 20% once “normal” business travel returns.

During the webcast on 15 September, a viewer survey was also conducted as to when people estimated there would be a full “return to normal”. A vast majority – over 60% – stated they thought business would recover by 2023/2024.

This and all other sessions of the ITB Virtual Convention can be streamed free of charge at www.itb.com/VirtualConvention/.

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