With vaccine rollouts gaining traction and stability, business travel is returning — albeit in a markedly different landscape than before.
Following research in across more than 15 countries monitoring global political crises, security developments, and travel news daily, Adam Schrader, director of operations at travel risk intelligence company, Riskline highlights challenges and trends set to shape the rest of 2021.
1. ‘Code red’ climate change
With wildfires raging across countries including Greece, Turkey, Spain and the US, extreme weather events and their resulting impact are becoming more common. Add to this the recent damning report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning of a ‘code red for humanity’ and climate change is now a threat no one can ignore.
Environmental changes have resulted in extreme weather events such as tropical and winter storms, wildfires and monsoon rainfall. These will grow to be more severe and emergency services, with resources stretched thin due to the pandemic, may struggle to respond.
The upcoming Amazon dry season poses a risk of wildfires, exacerbated by a lack of efforts to combat deforestation. India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, China and Pakistan may also witness extreme weather during the cyclone and monsoon seasons running until November.
Business managers will need to closely monitor traveller destinations and be prepared to adapt to last minute changes. Above all, ongoing communication with travellers before, during and after their trip remains essential.
2. Identifying comfort levels
While many employees will welcome the return of business travel, some will feel apprehensive. The responsibility lies with the travel manager to review any policy rules or guidelines which can be improved to support employees’ health and wellbeing. A recent report states that 85% of travel decision-makers believe that their organisation is responsible for the safety and well-being of an employee travelling for work.
Empathy will be key here as every individual will have had different experiences during the pandemic and travel managers can expect varying levels of anxiety, interaction, and comfort with returning to business travel. As part of a company's Duty of Care towards its employees, consultation and consideration will be key to ensure each person’s situation is treated on its own individual merits.
3. Rise of the purposeful travel movement
As business travel starts to return, many individuals and the businesses they work for face a new question: how can travel be transformed to reduce the environmental impact?
Many are keen ensure that a return to “business as usual” doesn’t come with a surge in emissions and skyrocketing company carbon footprints. Here’s where purposeful travel comes in. Where there are multiple travel options available — plane, train, boat or car — will travellers now opt for the slower journey, for the road less travelled?
There are many reasons driving the move towards purposeful travel, sustainability and environmental protection being primary. The rise in electric and hybrid vehicles means a car journey doesn’t necessarily have the gas-guzzling negative impact it used to. Also, a growing awareness of the delicate ecosystem we’re all part of means high-speed trains are now more attractive for a host of reasons beyond comfort and convenience. Switching from air to rail could deliver a whopping 90% reduction in emissions for an individual trip. France is leading by example as one of multiple European countries to recently ban short flights that can be replaced by a train trip. Some major organisations, like the BBC, also ask employees to take the train instead of short flights for business travel.
Some business travellers are looking beyond the inbound journey to the destination itself with a desire to immerse themselves more deeply in the local community. Travel managers should look at the opportunities offered by a destination to learn about its cultural traditions, its indigenous people, its native habitats and wildlife, its urban and natural spaces.
4. Rise in violent crime in developing countries
The coronavirus pandemic has caused a global rise in civil unrest and political insecurity, according to the Global Peace Index. In 2020, the world witnessed almost 15,000 violent protests and riots. Among those, more than 5,000 were pandemic-related and were recorded between January 2020 and April 2021.
An increase in crimes, such as carjacking and burglary, is expected in developing and semi-developed countries, whose governments are unable to provide adequate financial aid and other forms of relief amid the economic downturn triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. A report by Oxfam International estimates that it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover from the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Incidents of violent crime will likely increase in countries that already experience high crime rates, such as Venezuela and South Africa. A rise in opportunistic crime, such as looting and muggings, may occur in countries such as Egypt, where organised groups do not normally operate.
Adam Schrader is director of operations at travel risk intelligence company, Riskline.