COVID-19 has seen corporate travel grind to a halt around the world, with businesses forced to cancel all travel as they grapple with the deep financial implications of a global crisis.

The pandemic has catalysed new ways of thinking across many industries.  In addition to the obvious health and safety concerns, the proliferation of remote meeting tools, tightened budgets, and increased environmental awareness have all changed the way companies think about travel.  As a result, pre-COVID corporate travel policy best practices are now irrelevant and ineffective.

However, as lockdowns lift and borders reopen, companies are considering when and how to reintroduce travel.  Recovery of corporate travel is likely to be slow; however, travel managers should now be rethinking best practices within their companies’ policies, introducing new, dynamic features backed up with data-driven insights. 

Corporate travel policy best practices are likely to feature several themes:

Companies will use a phased approach for reintroducing travel

When looking at how to reintroduce travel to employees, many companies will use a phased approach.  Restrictions on travel vary between countries, and long-haul travel may need to remain off-limits due to the higher risks and costs it creates.  Companies may, therefore, choose to limit travel to domestic, essential business trips during the first phase.  

As the situation improves, a second phase could focus on the reopening of non-essential domestic travel, and a third could introduce travel within safe “bubbles”.  A final phase would see all travel reintroduced to an organization; with this, travel policies should contain a heightened duty of care practices to enable employees to travel safely once again. 

Effective policies must balance duty of care with financial implications

COVID-19 is likely to have ignited a new debate over duty of care versus cost savings.  Travel managers may need to spend more money on new tools to keep employees safe when traveling, and they may be faced with higher costs from booking cancelations, amendments and flexible fares.  Effective policies will manage these costs by using data to inform corporate travel policy change decisions.  For example, flight data from companies such as FairFly can help travel managers understand the financial implications each change is likely to have within the current state of the market.

Automation will update travel policies in real-time

Due to the unpredictable nature of travel in the midst of COVID-19, automation is likely to play a more central role in travel management policies.  Governments around the world are tightening and easing various travel restrictions constantly – with each country taking a different approach.  This can make it increasingly difficult for travel managers to make continuous, timely changes to their policies.  Instead, companies should introduce automatic features in their policies that correlate elements – such as price limits, booking time frames, flight durations, authorised flight routes and permitted cabin classes – with the latest situational developments.  An intelligent corporate travel policy will base these features on robust industry data, which can help travel managers to understand their impact on company budgets. 

Flexible fare costs must be controlled

The unpredictable nature of travel means that businesses value flexibility from travel suppliers more than ever.  As a result, airlines are focusing their marketing efforts on flexible fares.  However, flexibility comes with a higher price tag, creating additional costs for corporations.  To keep costs from airfares low, travel managers should consider working with a company such as FairFly, which can provide insights into corporate travel policy decisions – such as an airline’s advanced purchase policy and lowest logical fare policy.  FairFly can also help companies secure the lowest fares; if the price of a booked flexible fare goes down, its intelligent technology can detect this, and the fare can be rebooked at the new price.

Communication is critical

Corporate travel policies should incorporate emergency response practices if border closures or quarantine restrictions happen during travel, and measures should be in place to support employees in this situation.  Employee contact details must be kept up-to-date so that companies can relay reliable, real-time information to them as it happens.  Travel managers will need to work closely with departments such as legal, HR and communications to regularly prompt staff to check their details and download any extra communications software that your new corporate travel policy requires.

Focus on adoption

Pre-COVID, it was likely that many employees weren’t even aware of certain aspects of their companies’ travel policies.  However, it is now crucial that employees buy in to new features.  One way to increase adoption is to demonstrate an understanding of how the travel experience can be safer and more comfortable.  Consider using a solution such as FairFly Wellness, which benchmarks traveler wellbeing using the Traveler Wellness Score, then uses insights to suggest improvements to the travel experience.