The return of business travel

After months on hiatus, business travel is returning. But what has changed? The AirPlus Global takes a look at...

  • what travel looks like now
  • what companies are thinking
  • how the future of business travel could look

No more business as usual for post-pandemic corporate travel

The coronavirus pandemic has altered life as we know it. The first major non-wartime crisis the globalized world has faced has nearly every facet of society reeling from its ramifications. Not least: business travel.

Will business travel ever return to normal, or should we get used to shaking hands in hazmat suits? Well, we’re making a new normal. Where business travel is just as important as ever, but health and safety are emphasized.

The security of its employees is the top priority of any self-respecting company. But there’s also no taking away the fact that travel remains a critical aspect of strong business. Studies show that 74% of business travelers say time spent in person with partners and prospects strengthens relationships and increases motivation.[1]

Executives are even bigger believers in business travel. In a recent AirPlus survey of 424 CEOs, CFOs and sales heads from across the US, China, Germany, Italy, and France, 80% insisted that personal meetings with customers and suppliers were not just important but indispensable for their business.[2] That despite being well aware of other options. 75% of these leaders understood that new ways of communication like video conferencing could substitute for a certain amount of business travel. So even when substitutes are available, personal contact pays off.


hazmatThe new business casual? Not quite.[3]


The situation on the ground (and in the air)

Still in the midst of the crisis, we can’t be sure of much. But this at least is very clear: we are already beginning to travel. And some signs look promising. In fact, with airports pressed to demonstrate their health standards, travel has rarely been so convenient. (Our CEO recently took his first post-pandemic business trip and told us about it here.)

Similar to other airlines, American Airlines recently announced it would allow tickets for flights originally scheduled by September 30, 2020 to be pushed back as late as the end of 2021.[4] But they’ve taken their offer further and will allow passengers to change both the origin and destination of their flights. A very encouraging reason to book a flight a little earlier than you might have anticipated.

Lets say you’ve booked that flight, are already in the airport, but are getting cold feet. The Frankfurt Airport in Germany is one of many around the world to offer coronavirus testing at its medical center, located right in the main terminal and accessible to the general public.[5] Choose an antibody test or a nose/throat swab (or both!) and they’ll contact you quickly with results. Probably before you even board your flight. Just in case…

A handful of airports in the UK, among them those in Manchester, Aberdeen, and Birmingham, have kickstarted an innovative service where passangers can book time slots for security in advance.[6] It has helped avoid long lines, which ensures both proper social distance and a more pleasant trip, and hints at the role recent pandemic-related changes could play in an improvement of travel conditions.


plane windowA new era of travel is dawning on a world now shaped by pandemic.[7]


Even where restrictions have lifted, the world is still unsure. So how quickly will demand for business travel pick back up? And will it ever reach pre-pandemic levels again?

“It will take a long time before we see these levels again,” warns Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr.[8] Companies shouldn’t count on an immediate “return to the old status” or to “continue flying as usual” straight out of the gates.

So what should you count on?


The future of business travel

With so many employees working from home due to the global crisis, we learned how effective many remote methods can be. But we also learned how irreplaceable personal contact ultimately is. Our challenge, then, is to send travelers out into the world with as little vulnerability as possible. Luckily, the entire business world is facing this challenge together.


dockWhere is the future of business travel headed?[9]


This is our opportunity to bring business travel into the modern world. More than ever before, your employees rely on the right tools to travel well and spend wisely.

Payment solutions that increase efficiency have never been more critical than in these economically uncertain times. They do more than enable your employees to travel. They also increase visibility, decrease waste and fraud, and streamline the reporting process. Efficiency is the secret ingredient to financial recovery.

Above and beyond your product portfolio, look for business travel expertise that serves your stability and confidence approaching the post-corona business trip. There are times to travel more cautiously, to even look for remote solutions in emergencies. But most important is simply traveling smarter.


Bon voyage!

The business trip of the future is about balancing your company’s need for oversight and security with your traveling preference for flexibility and convenience. Make your payment approach centralized yet diversified, with strong booking systems but wide acceptance for spending on the go. You’ll have little to worry about setting out, and once you’re back home, no one has to piece together a jigsaw puzzle of reporting paperwork.

Only time will tell exactly how the business world arises from this unprecedented challenge. But look for a few key elements in the business trip of the future: automated processes, integrated payment, virtual solutions… These are the paths to a simpler, safer future for business travel.

And the global nature of the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted a policy we should all keep closer to heart: inform yourself of the specific conditions, restrictions, and recommendations for the destinations you or your employees are traveling to. We’ve all been taught a lesson on taking these recommendations seriously and erring on the side of health and safety.

Finding the balance between good business and responsible travel just got a lot more complicated, but we’re in it together. Look out for more industry insights and trends to come, and reach out to our AirPlus experts anytime for advice, assistance, and solutions.


[1] International Travel Management Study 2017

[2] AirPlus Survey November 2019

[3] Photo by Gabriel Gurrola on Unsplash




[7] Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash


[9] Photo by Gordon Plant on Unsplash

Share this post

Subscribe now