Information around COVID-19 is a moving target with updates coming out several times a day. Once business travel starts up again, there will be restrictions and new procedures travelers will need to think about, and directives may vary depending on where the traveler is going to and from.
Now is the opportunity for travel buyers to elevate their position as the trusted travel expert in the company, fully supported by their travel management company and travel suppliers.
Travel buyers and teams must provide critical, relevant information to keep employees and travelers informed on business status, travel program expectations, and changes. “It might be best to over-communicate during this period while there is so much uncertainty and complexity,” says Nancy Miller, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Communications at Travel and Transport. She added, “Buyers may find that the situation will be changing regularly so new updates will be needed.”
A good starting point is to assess how your travelers and employees are feeling about the coronavirus pandemic, and the eventual return to travel. Some travelers might be pacing at home, ready to spring back into action. Others will feel a heightened level of anxiety and need time to adjust before returning to the office and traveling again. Consulting the legal and safety/risk teams will help guide your thinking.
Provide a forum or resource for travelers to ask questions or provide comments regarding upcoming trips or travel experiences. This information should be shared directly with the travel, HR, safety, and risk teams.
Surveys are also very useful to gauge the workforce concerns for the future of travel. Use the feedback to estimate future travel volumes, and to consider what might need to change in your travel and meetings program in the short- and long-term. This information will also be valuable to share with suppliers such as airlines and hotels, so they can address travelers’ apprehensions.
The Impact on Employees
While employees cannot travel, they are often missing out on educational and networking/ socializing opportunities. “Are your employees trained and set up to continue working remotely successfully in the long-term?” asks Glenn Antonucci, Director, Internal Communications at Travel and Transport. “If employees are advised to stay at home for an extended amount of time, it will continue to change how people work and learn.”
Alongside internal communications and HR, engage with your company’s IT and safety/risk teams to cover all angles and possibilities that you may not have thought about with work at home setup.
When travel does pick up again, those first initial emails will be critical to the future of your travel program. “This pandemic has created such monumental shifts in our lives that it should be utilized as the backdrop to introducing new processes and reminding travelers of the policies,” suggests Antonucci. “By directly addressing the concerns raised in the company surveys that are sent to employees, travel buyers are building further trust.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the need to take care of ourselves, and for employers to truly step up and care about their workforce. When it comes to travel, safety is typically linked to those visiting a ‘dangerous’ location or being involved in large-scale, emergency events such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster. While plans for these situations are still important, this pandemic has leveled the field and reiterated the fact that anything can happen anywhere.
Whether on a trip, in the office, or at home, expectations will be higher for policies and procedures that truly put health and safety first. Organizations must ensure that employees have the tools and resources available to help with physical and mental health.
Ask your safety/risk team how that might look for domestic and overseas travel. What happens if a traveler loses her/his passport or is mugged? Does she/he know-how and who or what company to contact for assistance in replacing documents? Do you want to offer wellbeing advice before trips or enable a subscription service to an app that helps with jet lag? You have multiple options available.
You will have an idea of what your travelers care about based on internal survey findings. But some travelers will not want to openly share their struggles with their employer. It might still be best to share resources and tools with the entire company so everyone has the option if they need help.
On top of the travel policy – think about some simple guidelines around how to travel safely that you can pass on to travelers. Chantel Windeshausen, Executive Director, Global Marketing has some ideas. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen simple animations used by authorities and organizations on television and social media explaining rules such as social distancing measures. Can you follow suit and use your mobile device to create a simple video of your own about traveling safely? Or you could create a checklist of what travelers should be doing during different stages of the trip, such as before leaving home, at the airport, and arriving at the hotel room pre-trip. The key is to make this simple so you can get information into your travelers' hands quickly and frequently.”
Keep in Contact with Travel Suppliers
If there is a real concern among travelers about cleanliness or having ‘contactless’ trips, talk to your preferred suppliers. Your suppliers may already have resources including videos or blogs that will help.
Providing Traveler Kits
Businesses can go a step further by providing travelers with kits that help them to stay safe while traveling. Items might include hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and masks. Again, it is best to speak to the safety/risk and finance teams, as well as marketing, to get some ideas and ensure these steps cover all bases.
Overcommunicate with Travelers
Even while on a trip, communication needs to continue. Make sure your travelers have access to the travel portal wherever they are and can easily find key information when they need it. If a traveler needs critical information and instructions relevant to their trip, call them, or use automated SMS or app notifications to get the update directly to them.
“It’s good practice to check in on travelers while they are on any trip, but with heightened measures in place, it’s even more important to make sure employees feel safe and comfortable,” says Nancy Miller. “Technology such as SMS or apps can push short polls or questions directly to travelers asking how they are, if they need any assistance, and how to get in contact.”
Travel buyers need to be thinking about two-way communication and how a
traveler can reach them if they have any queries or concerns. Your travel management company will likely field most of the airline and hotel queries, but if a traveler has concerns about their safety or just needs a chat if they’re lonely, who can they turn to? This is part of a wider discussion with HR to make sure employees feel they have someone to talk to, no matter what the situation.
For this to work though, travelers need up-to-date profiles with relevant contact information completed and details such as next of kin, should they need to be kept informed.
Through Leap Advisor, our customer relationship management technology, advisors instantly see the traveler and their profile, where they are at the moment, and where they are going. Leap Advisor can even show an advisor instantly if the traveler is experiencing a disruption (e.g. an active flight delay), exactly what is occurring, and whether the airline is providing flexibility to make changes that will get the traveler on their way faster and at less expense.
Up-to-date profiles are essential in the current environment. Leap Advisor has capabilities and unique qualities that will expedite and add new value to the conversations we have with you and your travelers – real information, the right information, and helpful information shared quickly for a responsive conversation.
Get the ebook
Managing the traveler's journey and ensuring continued engagement in the travel program will be critical to success when travel returns. This was just one chapter of our 60+ page ebook called "The Ultimate Guide to When Travel Returns". Go get the rest right now to make sure you're prepared.