Over the past 20 months, millions of business trips were put on hold or canceled all together. For some, switching luxury airport lounges for the lounges of their own homes, even when they offered far less entertainment perks, was not a big issue. But for others, traveling as part of a job spec became part of their DNA – and that DNA went through many changes in 2020 and 2021.
“Corporate air travel ticket volumes started to pick up in October as the impact of the Delta variant wore off. Recovery flattened toward the end of the year which is typical given the holidays. Overall, corporate travel ticket volumes finished 2021 down 43% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Our current projections have it finishing 2022 down, once again, at 25% compared to pre-pandemic levels – and we still don’t expect them to hit pre-pandemic levels until late 2026.” – says Jim Allen, senior financial analyst at Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), an air travel intelligence and omnichannel providing tools and insights that connect the global travel community.
As not everyone is convinced that they can carry on working from home and, instead, would rather pack their laptop and board their first business trip of the new year, I asked entrepreneurs and professionals, from the travel industry, if it is safe yet to start traveling abroad for business this year. The result was a mixed bag: 30% of those responding to my query saying that they are against rushing plans too far from your postcode any time soon. However, over 45% of almost 1,800 people who replied, believe that this is the year they will be dusting off their passport for one or more business trips.
Here are some of the highlights, including the professionals who will stay put for a bit longer, and those ready to go.
Postpone business trips if you can
“I was supposed to go on my first business trip last January. However, the surge of the Omicron variant did wreak havoc in our lives once again. The back-to-back flight cancellations and COVID-related travel restrictions are changing by the day, while more and more travel plans are getting affected.
If the travel is non-essential, I would advise travelers to postpone traveling until the worldwide COVID-19 situation gets better. If the travel is urgent, make it a point to know all the travel requirements and quarantine protocols. It is also important to practice extra caution when in transit, as a lot of the new cases were transmitted while flying.”
Emily Cooper – founder at luxury Italian menswear brand Oliver Wicks
Renting a car is still safe
“From a car rental perspective, I would suggest it is very safe. Despite what the last 2 years have thrown at the travel industry, car rentals (when pre-booked) have remained one of the only travel services to offer a full refund up to 24 hours prior to travel, meaning that should your plans change due to personal isolation, airline cancellation or even government travel restrictions, you’ll never be left out of pocket with the rental car. Simply cancel for a full refund as soon as you know of your plans changing.
Equally, if you opt for payment on arrival (common place in the US), if you do not show at the rental counter, there will again, of course, be no charge.”
Phil Partridge – Marketing Manager at rental company Rhinocarhire
Current necessary logistics aren’t worth the hassle
“Before the omicron variant, I was very optimistic about business trips and thought I could finally meet with some of the partners in person. However, the situation keeps changing and a lot of European countries are closing their borders or tightening COVID-related policies. I think now is the worst time to plan any trips abroad because of the uncertainties and potential existence of new variants. I’m not sure when it will be possible to plan, but I expect to see a similar situation for another 6 months at least. The only option is to plan a week or two in advance, in case of shorter trips. However, this doesn’t mean much because of the necessary logistics for trips, so it’s better to simply avoid traveling for some time.”
Malte Scholz – CEO at software solution company Airfocus
Some travel insurance will not cover borders being closed
“Pandemic protocols could affect the travel industry for years, so it is important to be flexible and resilient when planning a business trip. With countries re-adding limitations to travel in an effort to stop the spread of new variants, business travelers should be careful of traveling internationally as most travel insurance policies don’t cover when your destination closes its borders. With searches for “business travel accident insurance” up 350% in the past 12 months, ensure that your insurance covers cancellations, lost baggage, medical emergencies, trip interruptions, and delays. As you may need to cancel or rearrange your business trip, make sure to book a refundable ticket. These tickets are at a higher price point but are a good option if you’re uncertain about your travel plans.”
Naveen Dittakavi – CEO at Next Vacay
Yes, it can be done safely
"From small groups of 10 people to larger meetings of several hundred, we believe that it is possible to safely travel and meet for business. Throughout 2021, my colleagues and I visited seven countries safely (UAE, Maldives, Belize, USA, Bahamas, Mexico, and Colombia). We were vaccinated, masked, and cautious in crowded places. Although some countries had strict requirements for entry, some had completely open borders with no testing necessary. We had to stay up-to-date on country guidelines and airline policies, and we tried to fly business class where possible to get more personal space on the plane, especially the overnight flights. Having business meetings and seeing local cultural sites was easy – we primarily stayed with outdoor dining, or a private room in a restaurant when we were with a group."
Liz Lathan – Chief Marketing Officer at Haute Companies
You could be stranded abroad
“One is not fully immune to the virus even after taking the vaccines. Not only is health the issue but with rapidly fluctuating travel restrictions, it can be a game-changer for your plans. Imagine the borders closing just a few days before your departure. That would change everything, and you will have only a few days to stop things from falling apart. This would be a hectic drama to deal with. Hence, plan with the future in mind and a strong backup. Thus, be careful and alert while you plan trips this year.”
Hilda Wong – Founder at content writing agency Content Dog
Be flexible when planning your next trip
“Travel disruptions are likely to continue for the foreseeable future, so it’s important to stay flexible. Make sure you’re up to date on entry requirements at your destination, as these could change before your trip. If you don’t generally purchase travel insurance, it may be a good idea to consider it for travel this year.
We’re still seeing a return of pre-pandemic demand for travel, and there seems to be a reluctance to return to the travel restrictions of the past two years. While the situation could certainly change, it does appear that 2022 will be a better year for traveling abroad.”
Steve Oliverez – CEO at travel comparison website InsanelyCheapFlights