Sustainability and purpose are key business travel drivers in the post-pandemic era
Business travel follows different rules after the COVID pandemic.Mikko Ryhänen
Virtual meetings and remote work came to stay, but the need to meet customers face to face remains. Business travel is returning after the pandemic but with changed travel policies and a bigger focus on reasons to travel and sustainability, writes Sari Fairchild, Finnair’s head of sales in Finland.
Business travel was one of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. We saw business travel come to an almost complete standstill as travel restrictions and lockdowns forced corporates to cancel their travel plans. However, companies quickly adapted to the changed world with remote working and virtual meetings.
As we look forward, the question arises: what will the future of business travel look like? For sure, remote work and virtual meetings are here to stay. At the same time, the need for people to meet face to face remains. This is demonstrated by the latest travel figures: in the latter part of 2022, we started seeing the comeback of business travel in volumes, and we expect to reach the pre-pandemic levels during 2023.
It’s clear that people’s confidence in business travel is returning, but we also see some things changing.
First of all, the reasons for travel are more focused. Travel for internal meetings has clearly decreased as virtual has become the primary way to go. At the same time, corporates still see a lot of value in meeting customers in person.
Consequently, corporate travel policies have been updated to reflect the new situation. For example, some companies no longer require their employees to travel at all as many things can be managed remotely. Furthermore, participating in international conferences is evaluated more critically than before. This is reflected in companies’ reduced travel budgets. In addition, updated travel policies come with increased approval requirements, meaning that the need for business travel is now screened more thoroughly.
“Corporate travel policies have been updated to reflect the new situation.”
Another trend is an increased focus on business travellers’ wellbeing and safety. This is visible in having adequate health and wellbeing practices in place and also in how business travel bookings are made. It is now common for companies to require employees to use company-approved booking platforms so that they can be located at any given time if needed.
Lastly, sustainability plays an even more prominent role in business travel. Not only do companies consider the need to travel more carefully, but they evaluate and choose travel partners and service providers through the lens of sustainability. Many corporates see sustainability as an important part of their travel policy and that it can affect their employer branding. In particular, the younger generations of business travellers demand more flexible and sustainable business travel options.
While, in general, corporates are not yet willing to pay great premiums for sustainable partnerships, we are pleased to see increasing interest in offsetting schemes and in the purchase of sustainable aviation fuel.
For us working in the travel industry, this means developing solutions that fit the evolving needs of business travellers in the new normal – and becoming a trusted partner also in their sustainability efforts.