ASATA: the pandemic holds a few silver linings for corporate travel

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“When travel comes back, it may not be bigger, but it will be better.” These are the words of Bloomberg Travel Editor Nikki Ekstein, and she is 100% spot on.

The world has fundamentally changed. And even though the headlines have been dominated with messages of travel restrictions, border closures and quarantine, there are also some positive changes afoot and new opportunities on the horizon.

  1. Back to the future

From mobile hotel keys to contactless payments and customer service texting, hotels around the world are pulling out all the stops to make the traveller’s experience more seamless and frictionless. The pandemic has truly fast-tracked any innovation the travel industry was considering for years.

For consumers, this means they can check in early and collect all relevant documents digitally, reducing close-contact touchpoints and keeping everyone safe and comfortable in the process. Also in the car rental industry, we’ve seen a new and touchless environment emerge. Customers can pre-register, fill in their driver’s license details and payment details and walk straight to their cars.

  1. A different airport experience awaits

Remember the long queues at airport security and near-stampedes to vacate the airplane? Social distancing has definitely brought about a number of perks. The COVID-safe row-by-row disembarking of the plane offers a calmer and more seamless experience. And for the future, we can expect facial recognition to speed up the security queues. And if you feel a bit lost at the airport, you can expect nifty robots to help you on your way. In September 2020, Dubai International Airport also introduced “Rahal,” which means traveller in Arabic, to help passengers at its airport.

  1. Cleaner hotels with a more exclusive touch

Numerous articles have been written about the germs to be found on TV remotes in hotels. Not anymore. Never before have hotel rooms been as clean as they are today. Hotels are regularly disinfecting lobbies, and suites have even been transformed into private dining rooms. In future, we could even see new health and safety certifications for hotel. Singapore is taking the lead in this regard, and the country has devised a seven-point checklist for hotels wanting to be certified SG Clean.

  1. Sharing rooms makes place for single rooms

William McIntyre, Regional Director Southern Africa for the Radisson Hotel Group, recently explained during a webinar organised by Corporate Traveller that there has been a clear trend towards single rooms for business stays. Whereas pre-COVID, business travellers often shared a twin room with their colleagues when away on business or attending a conference, this is no longer the case. When organising a conference, many companies have started enquiring about the possibility of buying out the hotel for the duration of the conference.

  1. Up-to-the-minute information at your fingertips

Up-to-the-minute information is no longer a nice-to-have but an essential requirement when travelling during a global pandemic. Travellers need to know the status of their flights, border closures, new COVID protocols as well as quarantine requirements. Instant access to information is likely to last well beyond the pandemic. Gate change? Delay? Lounge access? You’ll have all the information on your cell phone or mobile device immediately.

  1. Professional support along the way

Lack of support for fixing problems while travelling – from cancellations to delays and rebooking – was flagged as one of the top three gripes of business travellers in a recent Skift study. The good news is that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of having an ASATA travel expert at your side to fix any problems before you even know they existed. DIY travel arrangements are unlikely to come back any time soon.

  1. Smoother approval processes

Another welcome change COVID has delivered for business travellers? Smoother and more efficient approval processes. Travel managers have started realising how stressful and frustrating a clunky approval process can be. That is why most companies have started investing in technology that streamlines the approval process. Whenever a traveller tries to book a high-risk destination, their booking needs to be flagged for approval.

  1. True hospitality is back

Remember the days when changing a flight ticket cost more than buying a new ticket? And that earning loyalty status equalled mission impossible? A great number of airlines have committed to eliminating change fees for the foreseeable future. As for loyalty programmes? Most hotels and airlines have stopped points expiration and have made it easier to redeem rewards.

The third wave in South Africa has dealt another blow to business travel. By now, however, we know that we need to ride out the waves and that better times lie ahead. Soon, we’ll travel to see our customers and colleagues again and sit across the table from them to discuss our next big idea. Your ASATA travel expert can guide you how to get back on the road in a safe and productive manner.