Business travel has mostly been on pause since the outbreak of COVID-19. Executives should be planning how to restart business travel programs in a way that keeps travelers safe and supports business objectives.
COVID-19 stopped a number of day-to-day activities when it expanded across the United States in March. Restaurants closed. Sports leagues paused their seasons. And business travel tapered off. Now, corporate leaders are planning for the right way to restart business travel.
In regard to restarting business travel, the first question is: When? And how can executives restart their business travel programs safely? WorldAware and the Global Business Travel Association co-hosted a webinar in late April that addressed these questions. Here’s a look at key takeaways.
What We Need: Herd Immunity or a Vaccine
Everyone wants to know when things will return to “normal.” According to the webinar, there are 2 clears paths back to normalcy:
1. Herd Immunity: When 60–80% of the population is resistant to COVID-19, we will have achieved herd immunity. This make it extremely difficult for the virus to spread. But reaching herd immunity could take a long time.
2. A Vaccine: A widely used vaccine would make it safe to return to “normal.” The most ambitious timelines for a vaccine are 12–18 months (meaning one might be available in spring or summer of 2021).
While these are the 2 paths back to normalcy, there’s no reliable timeline for either path right now. Of course, this lack of certainty is difficult for companies and their business travel programs.
3 Things to Know About Your Employees
What should businesses be doing as we wait for either herd immunity or a vaccine? It’s important to know 3 things about your team members and Travelers right now:
1.Who is infected? It’s important, obviously, to know who on your team is currently struggling with COVID-19. It’s important to know this on both a personal front (supporting your sick team members) and a professional front (keeping them quarantined until it’s safe).
2.Who has recovered? It’s also important to know who has been infected and recovered. There’s a strong possibility that those infected are now immune to COVID-19, though this has not been proven.
3.Who is susceptible? Anyone who has not been infected and who has not recovered from COVID-19 is still susceptible. Of course, COVID-19 is more dangerous for certain populations, including older employees and employees with pre-existing conditions. It’s important to know who falls into these categories.
Knowing the answers to the 3 questions above will allow executives to make confident and compassionate plans about restarting their travel programs.
Timelines to Prepare For
While there’s still a great deal of uncertainty around COVID-19, experts can guess at likely timelines. Here are 4 timelines for the past, present and future:
1.The first few months of COVID-19 have come and gone. For the most part, Americans quarantined voluntarily and maintained a safe social distance.
2. Starting in May and June, the economy is reopening. The hope is that a combination of social distancing and the summer heat will lead to a fading of COVID-19 cases.
3. In late summer and early fall of 2020, we will find out whether or not COVID-19 is seasonal. We’ll either see a spike in cases as the weather grows cold again, or we’ll find that there’s nothing seasonal about this virus.
4. In 2021, we will know more about herd immunity and a possible vaccine. During this time, executives will have much more clarity around COVID-19 — allowing them to make better long-term plans.
These are potential timelines that still include a great deal of uncertainty. That said, there’s consensus among experts that the timelines above will play out and that their related questions will find answers.
How to Support Employees
Whether or not your employees deal with COVID-19, they will all deal with COVID-19-related stress. During this time, it’s essential that companies address the mental health, stress and anxiety of their employees.
Encourage your employees to take care of themselves during this time of uncertainty. If they are working remotely, emphasize creating routines, taking frequent breaks, and working regular business hours only. When in doubt, over-communicate. Your employees likely have questions about many things, including the health of the company and the security of their jobs. Create town hall-like settings so that they can ask them.
How to Support Your Business
Executives in the age of COVID-19 are dealing with immense pressure. The most difficult thing is balancing employee safety with the need to get back to work. But you don’t have to make these decisions in a vacuum. Look for signals and messages from authorities and other businesses, including:
- Government: Widespread testing and monitoring, once available, will make it easier to return to work. Track government numbers related to COVID-19 cases. A sustained reduction will signal that it’s safer to return to work and business travel.
- Other Businesses: Look for the development of a testing certification process and the widespread availability of personal protective equipment. Once these things are in place, returning to work and travel will be safer. Also, track how companies in your industry are creating policies and executing on returning employees to the office and to business travel.
Every business is unique. Use the information and insights gained from the government and other businesses to make the right decisions for your company. And remember that you’re not alone — you also have support from your partners in the travel industry. For example, this NPR interview with Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly demonstrates how your vendors are working to keep your travelers safe.
JTB Business Travel is Here to Help
As you make difficult decisions about your business and its employees, JTB Business Travel is here to help. We’re working each day with companies large and small to help them get their team members traveling again in a safe way.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can support your business.