A recent advisory study of global sentiments regarding the resumption of business travel has shown what employers probably already know…

New research commissioned by travel and expense management specialist SAP Concur may provide relevant insights into post-pandemic business travel patterns.

The data suggests travel will continue to play an irreplaceable role in meeting critical business needs. However, travelers’ health and safety, and a new era of trip preparation and policies, will be front and centre as travel resumes.

Notable highlights of the responses from 4,850 business travelers in 23 global markets, which feature 1,750 respondents in Asia Pacific (APAC) include:

  • Supercharged health and safety concerns add stress over business travel resumption
    • Nearly half of APAC business travelers (48%, compared to 45% globally) said they experienced the most stress during the trip, rather than before (21%) or after the trip (31%). When the same study was conducted in July – Aug last year, only 31% of APAC travelers cited the trip itself as the most stressful stage of travel.
    • With the pandemic dominating news headlines, more than 2 in 5 said their health and safety is their top priority while travelling for business (42%, compared to 38% globally). This is more than twice the number of respondents who regarded business needs (17%) as their top priority. The concern for personal health and safety was even more pronounced in markets like in China (57%), Malaysia (55%), and Taiwan (53%), where more than half the respondents ranked health and safety as their top priority this year.
    • Given such stress levels, it is likely that 91% of APAC business travelers feel concerned about resuming travel. They are especially worried about getting sick themselves (55%) or infecting their family (51%). Additionally, the trip itself is likely to be anxiety-inducing: among those with concerns, 54% are concerned about being on a plane, 48% about using public transportation, and 41% about staying in a hotel.

  • APAC sees need to resume in-person meetings
    Although 43% of APAC business travelers said they were worried about resuming travel once restrictions are lifted, over a quarter (29%) felt excited as well. This sentiment was particularly strong in India, where half of business travelers (50%) said they were excited about their next trip. Nearly 3 in 5 (58%) APAC business travelers had positive feelings about traveling again.
    • This eagerness to return to the road is likely because most APAC business travelers (60%, compared to 52% globally) anticipated a reduced number of deals or contracts signed without face-to-face meetings. Fifty percent of APAC business travelers expected declines in new business due to a lack of in-person meetings. Policies and booking tools also played a role in how travelers felt about getting back on the road: more than a third (34%) who used their company’s online booking tool felt excited, compared to just 23% of travelers who did not use such tools.
  • Prepare to meet emerging APAC traveler expectations
    If and when business travel resumes, almost all (97%) APAC business travelers polled would consider some measures critical for safely returning ‘to the road’. These include mandatory personal health screenings for travelling employees (45%), limiting travel to only the most critical trips (39%), and easier access to personal protective equipment (37%).
    • Employees will increasingly require guidance from organizations on how to stay safe when they travel. Some 96% of APAC business travelers said company training would be beneficial, especially training on how to protect their health and safety while travelling (61%, compared to 54% globally) and how to maintain healthy habits while travelling (51%, compared to 44% globally). This shows a higher interest in maintaining healthy habits from last year (38%), likely a result of increased attention on safeguarding health on the road.
    • Organizations that are not proactively protecting employee well-being on business trips could risk consequences – 51% of APAC business travelers say they would ask to limit travel if their company does not implement the measures they want (compared to 45% globally), 14% would look for a position that does not require travel – including 5% who would consider a position at a different company.

Said Dr. Carl Jones, VP and Head of Travel, APAC and Greater China, SAP Concur: “Emerging expectations around health and safety requires the travel industry to adapt, innovate and transform. For a start, organizations should update their travel policies and create a mechanism to define essential travel clearly—not just from the corporate standpoint but also taking into account government regulations and employees’ appetite for travel.”

According to Jones, when a trip does need to take place, companies should have a way to ensure that employees only use approved and safe airlines and hotels. Also, ensure that they can receive information on changing ground situations that impact their health and safety; and be able to contact their employers for assistance 24/7.

“We believe that only with such support can employees confidently resume travel, continue to deliver on work commitments and service customers as they did before COVID-19,” Jones said.