With very little warning, the Covid-19 pandemic brought global travel to a standstill. Most individuals and organisations adopted remote work to reduce the spread of the virus. What’s more, business events and conferences transformed into virtual affairs with varying degrees of success. How will remote work and the future of business travel evolve in the new year?
Many are confident business travel will return to its pre-pandemic levels in 2- 3 years. Yet in a post-pandemic world, even more foresee the rise of the digital nomad with an increase in travel among those who merge business with leisure.
“Once the vaccine is more widely available, we expect to see a stabilisation of the numbers. For the next two years, our projection is that corporate travel will recover to 60% of pre-pandemic levels by June 2022,” Andrew Stark, MD Flight Centre Travel Group Middle East and Africa said via email.
Remote workforces and digital nomads
While some organisations have returned to the traditional office, others have long-term commitments to remote work.
Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo, Chief Operating Officer, City Lodge Hotel Group, similarly alluded to remote work-enabled “nomadic behavior” among professionals.
“For as long as lockdown restrictions are in place, with the majority of corporates working from home, we are not likely to see an immediate comeback of corporate guests to our hotels. The rollout of the vaccine is an important milestone, as it will begin to address the required population (or herd) immunity, and therefore determine the relaxation on restrictions that make travel and trading a challenge,” Sangweni-Siddo said.
“CLHG’s #YourPrivateOffice was introduced to create an office away from the office, or a getaway from the domestic scene given that many business people and corporates who are currently working from home. With #YourPrivateOffice you can book a room to work in for several hours a day at a special rate that is inclusive of tea and coffee making facilities, secure parking, fast and reliable WiFi, air conditioning, and peace and quiet. Desks in the rooms are set up as professional work stations, available from 8am to 3pm, for R495.00 per day,” Sangweni-Siddo said.
A new take on business travel
To enhance the traditional business travel experience, hotels are incorporating a wide range of technologies, in-app features, Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities, and more. Shoring up holes across a company’s technical infrastructure could open up new opportunities for guest engagement and service offerings.
“There is no doubt that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is firmly upon us, and therefore the evolution of events is already taking place with hybrid events and conferences taking place. With limitations on the number of people gathering, IT platforms that enable the participants to log on for webinars, events, meetings and so on become all the more important, and therefore connectivity must be stable and reliable,” said Sangweni-Siddo.
The overall guest experience can be massively enhanced through automated destination info, mobile expense reporting, itinerary management apps, safety tracking apps and mobile payments. Mobile features enabling virtual meetings, meal planning, exercise, and travel could enable hotels to discover massive amounts of new revenue. On the customer side, these capabilities would open up a world of possibilities from a traveller’s smart device.
Oz Desai, GM of Corporate Traveller says, “COVID-19 has fast-tracked the path towards technological innovation on which the travel industry embarked well before the pandemic. Our industry was at the forefront of implementing touchless technology and accelerated the adoption of these technologies when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world. These technological innovations are here to stay.”
“Corporate Traveller’s mobile app Sam :] (Smart Assistant for Mobile) was in place before the pandemic hit. This app gives travellers up-to-the-minute information/alerts around flight time changes, baggage collection – even traffic delays or the weather at their destination.”
The pandemic is forcing organisations to think of creative ways to tap into a new kind of traveller. It could be incorporating more flexible cancellation policies, providing contactless amenities or offering discounts for extended stays. There are so many possibilities and only time and an effective vaccine will tell the future of Africa’s business travel industry.