A lot has been written about a return to vacation travel — cruise ships are setting sail, Disneyland is filling up, resorts are booked for months in advance. But a special class of traveler has long been the bread and butter of hotels and airlines the whole world round — business travelers. COVID-19 changed the way the world does business, so what’s in store for this massive and crucial segment of the travel and accommodations industry now that restrictions are being lifted? GOBankingRates asked the experts.
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Airfare — Especially International Flights — Might Get Cheaper
Most business travel takes place by plane, and few industries were affected by the virus more than airlines. But worldwide shutdowns proved that business can be done through the screens of laptops — so where does that leave the world’s airlines?
“The pandemic showed us one major thing in business travel — we can work from wherever,” said Mimi McFadden, owner of the California travel website The Atlas Heart. “No longer are the long and expensive business trips necessary for meetings. This will in turn lower the prices of airlines in order to attract the business traveler. Domestic travel may increase for business travel, but international business travel is no longer attractive with the costs — and airlines will have to compete with this new norm by lowering international prices.”
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Rax Suen, a travel writer at Nomadsunveiled and creative director of the travel agency Monsterdaytours, agrees.
“Business travel is expected to drop because it is not just a matter of travel cost, but also time savings when remote meetings are possible,” Suen said.
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Or, the Cost of Air Travel Might Increase
Although cheaper airfare isn’t necessarily wishful thinking, it’s certainly not a guarantee, either.
“My personal belief is that prices for air travel will be high for the next couple of years on most routes — after all, many airlines live from their business passengers, especially on intercontinental routes — before settling back to lower levels,” said international sales and marketing consultant Kathryn Read. “Will we go back to the insanely cheap pre-pandemic flight prices? Probably not, as those have been shown not to be economically or environmentally sustainable.”
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Will Hotel Prices Rise? That Depends on the Kind of Hotel
Business travelers looking for a room to sleep in once the plane lands likely won’t encounter too much sticker shock — as long as they stick with smaller hotels.
“We are seeing an extremely volatile supplier market,” said Lee Bibring, managing director of Love Velo Ltd., one of the U.K.’s biggest cycling travel businesses. “Smaller brands, independent hotels and niche suppliers, such as experience and activity companies, have been able to keep their rates relatively stable from pre-pandemic costs. Those businesses were able to take government support and effectively hibernate, allowing them to emerge post-pandemic relatively unharmed.”
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Business travelers who gravitate away from boutique brands and toward familiar corporate chains, on the other hand, should expect roller-coaster pricing — at least in the short term.
“Conversely, the larger hotel chains and businesses with significant operating costs have been far more affected,” Bibring said. “We are seeing exceptionally high rates in peak season as they try and recoup losses, but very attractive shoulder season rates as they try to stimulate off-peak occupancy. We expect to see safety measures drive higher costs as very few travel industry suppliers can afford any more of an attack to their bottom line.”
Suen believes that same kind of volatility could impact airlines, as well.
“Price changes are uncertain and will likely fluctuate as airlines will need to take time to test their pricing and strategies to determine what is an attractive price to service offering combination,” Suen said. “This is further fueled by the need to adapt quickly to market changes as travel and social regulations continue to change with the pandemic situation.”
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A Lot of It Depends on Where You Do Business
A lot of the discussion focuses on business travel in the United States, but that’s just one part of a global economy.
“Business travel will be a complex issue post-pandemic and will probably vary across regions,” Read said. “I’m working internationally with a strong focus on Asia, so once quarantine and visa restrictions are lifted, I believe many business people will be back to traveling. In Asia, strong relationships are at the core of any successful business and it’s considerably harder to build those from scratch with an Asian via a screen. So, in this case, I believe business travel will return. Within Europe or within China we could see a continued high demand for rail travel, where the infrastructure allows for it, as this is often faster and more convenient than flying or taking the car.”
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A Lot Also Depends on Who You Work For
In the end, the company you’re traveling for will have a lot to do with what kind of experience you have.
“Unlike going on vacation, a lot of risks associated with business travel for an employee actually lie with the person’s employer,” said Lee Curtis, CEO of Reside Worldwide, a corporate travel firm with operations in more than 20,000 cities and 60 countries. “Reduction of these risks has become crucial for companies navigating the post-COVID travel landscape and is something our Fortune 500 clients continue to be extremely concerned about. Ensuring a balance between cost-effectiveness and duty of care — and actually what duty of care now needs to look like — will likely be the biggest challenge for recovery in this sector this year. Companies will continue to search for trusted travel platforms that can address both of these needs and if they get it right, they will save money by retaining staff and earn revenue by accelerating business with successful face-to-face meetings.”
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