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By Priyanka Patel, Consultant, Deloitte

As I write this blog post, I am starkly reminded of how the lives of my sister and I will continue to be wildly different during the coming months. You see, one of us is a doctor working in the first UK hospital to announce a critical incident due to COVID-19, the other is a business travel consultant at Deloitte. I'll let you guess who's who...

I wave goodbye to my sister (she is about to attend intensive care training on one of her days off), whilst I continue to type on my laptop. And I remember. The only real disruption to my life has been accessing my work files from home, and the fact that I no longer have to travel into the city for work. I can't quite help but feel, perhaps selfishly, that I have pulled the better straw here.

Whilst my own work life has had minimal disruption, what does spring to mind is how the area in which I specialise has come to an abrupt halt. Across the globe, business travel has virtually ceased over the last month, and we, the Deloitte business travel team, have pondered the affect this will have on business travel in the mid to long term.

Many travel-related industries - travel management companies, airlines etc. - will be significantly impacted due to business and other travel taking this massive dip. Reuters recently published an article stating that the cost of COVID-19 to the business travel industry was estimated at $820 billion.

Michael Skapinker wrote a great blog for the Financial Times, challenging whether business travel would bounce back from coronavirus. He came to the conclusion that it will. In fact, once travel restrictions are fully lifted, and some semblance of ‘regular life’ is restored, it may well bounce back with a vengeance, at least in the short term.    

The key points Michael makes are valid; it will always be the case that it is easier to establish and build a business relationship in person. Senior leadership will always need to keep abreast of what is happening globally across the organisation, and sometimes, regardless of how good the internet connection is, virtual platforms just aren't quite sufficient. The last point Michael makes particularly resonated with me. I happily undertake business travel abroad because I love visiting new places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures - even if it is just for an hour or two after a meeting.

I make a serious point though. Whilst the most travel-weary of employees may not have as much enthusiasm for travelling for work as I do, it is possible that those individuals are the very people unlikely to stop travelling during their careers; typically senior leadership, or those with specialist skill-sets, who often simply need to be on the ground. We know that business travel can be expensive. Nevertheless, companies still need to ensure they budget appropriately, including the cost of potential compliance actions arising from cross-border trips.  

What we will have learnt from COVID-19, is the importance of being able to monitor the location of business travellers, not only for the sake of compliance obligations, but also as an employer, and the duty of care for your staff that entails. Before COVID-19, would your organisation been able to know  exactly where your business travellers had been, or indeed, where they were planning to go? Would you have been able to blacklist certain destinations from having travel booked in a matter of hours? Would you have been able to ensure your people were not going into locations where travel bans had been implemented, meaning that they may be denied entry? If not, whilst business travel has ceased temporarily, now might be the perfect time to prepare for the ‘next normal’ world we all face.

So, whilst the lives of my sister and I continue to vary, we’re both hoping for some return to work normality soon – her to return to regular ward rounds, and me to get back to office routine, see my friends and to finally get a decent cup of coffee!

If you have any further thoughts about the future of business travel which you would like to share, please feel free to get in touch with me at priyanpatel@deloitte.co.uk or, if you would like to know more about the issues arising from business travel and the services that Deloitte can provide, please click here.

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Priyanka Patel, Deloitte

I am a Consultant within Deloitte’s Business Travel team and have five years of experience in both business travel and the wider data analytics space. I spend my working week delivering client solutions to track and manage their business travel population, and to proactively identify any potential compliance obligations. I am based in London, and in my free time I enjoy pottery throwing, and archery on the weekends.

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