At some point in the future, your association’s employees will hit the road again—but it’s important to understand the financial considerations and risk that come with that.
The pandemic might have kept business travelers out of the airport for an extended period of time, but that’s already beginning to change—which is, of course, good news for associations.
But the post-lockdown transition creates questions for associations about how to manage travel policies amid a gradual transition back to the airport. Some (including Associations Now Publisher Karl Ely) are already making the trip into the broader world, and there may be more travelers than you think—a recent Global Business Travel Association study found that 40 percent of businesses had already resumed some form of business travel, and 77 percent of travelers were comfortable with traveling again for business.
Given the long break, however, questions about travel policies are going to crop up. Here are just a few questions that might be on your organization’s mind regarding travel policies, along with some insights from CWT:
How does the cost picture change? With a slow ramp-up of business travel around the world, business expenses are likely to remain low in the months ahead—but Ian Cummings, the global vice president for commercial at CWT, says that beyond the cost savings created by reduced travel, he doesn’t see policies changing significantly from a cost standpoint. “Given the fact that we are currently seeing limited long haul/intercontinental travel, with the main increase/return beginning with domestic, many organizations will be seeing a significant decrease in business expensing,” Cummings says. That said, he does see that there may be a need to spend more on equipping employees with better technology to use during virtual events, which could be a new category of expense for organizations. On top of that, some organizations may choose to expense food and beverage costs for attending virtual events, but Cummings says that “this is a corporate choice, as opposed to exact requirement.”
Who travels—and what gets covered? Perhaps in a good year, you might have been able to cover a wide array of travelers to a host city, including board members and even volunteers. But the events of the past year might change the equation for who travels, especially given the rise in suitable virtual alternatives. “This all has to do with how associations perceive essential travel,” Cummings says. He explains that risk will probably be a determining factor in who takes a given trip, not just financial cost. Additionally, there are non-pandemic considerations as well; the decrease in travel during the pandemic hits in tandem with increasing concerns about the environmental cost of travel, creating the possibility that some organizations may choose to discourage travel that isn’t seen as strictly necessary. “It is certainly advisable for businesses to reshape their travel program so it fits to this ‘new world’ and make wise decisions accordingly,” Cummings says. “If a trip doesn’t add value to the business activities, it could also be replaced by online conferencing tools.”
Should you require business travelers to vaccinate? Can you? This one’s a little complicated, and may not necessarily be up to you, depending on where you are in the world. Niklas Andreen, CWT’s president and chief operating officer, points to the fact that the European Union’s data protection regulations, among others, may make any question about vaccinations off-limits. Although that question can be asked of employees in the United States, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, it requires great care to ensure that you’re asking correctly and respecting privacy in the process. “Any corporate policy needs to sensitively reflect both employee and corporate stakeholder sentiment, whilst adhering to legal and HR protocol,” Andreen says.
When can you resume your normal business-travel approach? Andreen says that employees will need to reach a certain level of comfort to build enough trust to shape a broader travel strategy—but that the starting point will most likely come with a return to the office. But associations will also need to build trust throughout the travel process, given the shifting risk levels, which will be key for travel teams looking to expand the pool of who can get on the plane. “The key will be to ensure organizations have control of the process, and part of that will be ensuring that any business travel booked going forward should be booked through a company’s preferred channels to ensure their safety—enabling them to stay up to date on the situation in their destination of travel,” Andreen says. “Because not only will business travel in the future be extensively monitored by travel managers, but corporate policies should be agile enough to evolve within a constantly changing environment.”