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July 8, 2020

The New Normal: What It’s Like to Travel for Business Today

The travel industry has experienced a fundamental shift in the past six months that is changing how we travel, not just temporarily, but for the next 5-10 years. While corporate travel managers, along with the rest of the world, hoped for a temporary disruption before we got back to traveling the world, what we’ve learned is that getting back to business means understanding and adapting to a new way of working and moving through the skies.

This isn’t necessarily bad news. Just as enhanced security steps following 9/11 made aviation safer and more controlled, advancements in biosecurity will create a healthier and more sustainable industry in the long run. Airlines, hotels, rental car companies, and train lines have worked fervorously to come up with the guidelines, protocols, and practices needed to ensure that they could open their doors again with confidence and, in partnership with sound health practices on the part of travelers, create the path forward to a new normal.

The new normal is a world in which we are more aware of our physical space and where we go, what we touch, and who we talk to instead of beelining from point A to point B without looking up from the smartphone. The new normal is a world in which travel companies take on an even bigger role and responsibility in creating an environment that is safe for the business traveler to move within when forging important work relationships, closing deals, and driving growth. The new normal requires collaboration on a corporate and personal level so we can all get back to doing what we love, safely and when we’re ready.

The World Is Waiting

After spending months at home, the concept of packing and going to the airport might feel as strange to the business traveler as it does to the corporate travel manager, but reporting from inside dozens of U.S. airports has proven that now is actually a good time to travel. On a recent trip, we found security lines non-existent, planes so empty that social distancing was possible (especially with middle seats blocked), and staff members who went above and beyond to ensure that travelers understood the new rules and felt comfortable abiding by them.

There is a benefit to being an early mover when it comes to getting back to business travel, as airports, planes, and hotels are still relatively empty and staff members are attuned to even the smallest detail. Not to say that the attention to sanitation and cleanliness won’t continue, this is the new normal after all, but traveling today is like walking into a brand new world a little ahead of the crowds.

What Does This Mean for the Travel Manager

Corporate travel managers have done the tough work of changing travel programs and adjusting budgets, understanding the 24/7 news cycle, and being a champion for safe and cost-effective business travel throughout the organization while taking care of the needs of their frequent flyers. What happens now?

Although the nuances of procedures and protocols will shift depending on travel supplier and location, corporate travel managers and business travelers can get a general and broad understanding of the enhanced cleaning and safety practices being put into place. This exercise serves two purposes: (1) They will be able to assess situations and make decisions about when they feel ready to travel for work again. (2) They can adjust their expectations while preparing their suitcases and mindsets for the new normal.

Although this will be an evolving practice in understanding what happens from when you arrive at the terminal until you swipe your smartphone to unlock the hotel room door, we want to help you get started.

To do so, we walked through the current travel experience with three different TripActions partners to provide a glimpse into the new normal as you embark on your next business trip.Although these are the perspective of just three travel companies, all hotels, airlines, rental car companies, and trains are hard at work making business travel as safe as possible today.

What It’s Like to Travel for Business Today

At the Airport with American Airlines

American Airlines wants to do things right.

American Airlines created a new Travel Health Advisory Panel including the Vanderbilt University Medical Center to advise on health and cleaning matters as travelers return over the summer. American is also the first airline to seek GBAC STAR accreditation through the Global Biorisk Advisory Council to ensure its cleaning and disinfection practices are appropriately in place and carried out. It’s so confident in its protocols and procedures that the airline announced in late June that it would no longer block middle seats.

While all that’s going on in the background, what concrete changes will business travelers experience at the airport? Business travelers can expect to see commercial-grade plexiglass shields at ticket counters and boarding gates and fewer computers and kiosks being used at the ticket counters to make space. All employees will be wearing a face mask and, although passengers aren’t always required to wear one in the airport, face masks are mandatory on the plane. American recently strengthened its face covering requirement as well and may deny future travel for customers who refuse to wear a face covering, an airline representative explains.

With great precaution comes… lounges. American started reopening 11 Admirals Club lounges on June 22 after adding plexiglass shields, hand sanitizer, and social distancing signage. Clubs will offer pre-packaged food and a full bar where allowed by local restrictions.

“Travel managers and business travelers should find peace of mind knowing their safety and well-being is of utmost importance to American, and the airline’s customers are at the forefront of every decision,” noted an American Airline representative.

In the Air with Southwest

Business travelers have a lot of questions when it comes to what the actual in-flight experience will be moving forward and the answer, for the most part, is cleaner!

Southwest Airlines is using electrostatic and anti-microbial spray treatments, cleaning aircrafts between every flight with hospital grade disinfectants, modifying boarding procedures, and mandating travelers and staff wear face masks.

Southwest, among other airlines, is also capping the number of seats sold on every flight to allow the middle seat to remain open until at least the end of September. The airliner also asks passengers to acknowledge a health declaration during check-in and encourage passengers to be honest about their state by removing all change and cancelation fees should they need or want to take a different flight.

“As we move into the new normal, we’re working around the clock to ensure we are doing what we can to provide a safe environment for you and your travelers. What isn’t changing is our commitment to you and connecting you to the people and places important in your lives,” a Southwest representative told TripActions.

Southwest is giving travelers additional time through September 2022 to use unused travel funds.

To learn more about unused tickets and waivers, listen to Episode 5 of Open for Business: A Corporate T&E Podcast Powered by TripActions.

Inside the Hotel with Radisson

Business travelers can expect a slightly similar but different atmosphere upon arrival to the hotel.

While each hotel company is creating its own guidelines, guests will not be screened by thermal cameras or contactless thermometers upon arrival nor will they be required to wear a mask throughout their stay, according to the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol.

The Radisson Hotels safety protocols are a series of enhanced measures that provide operational guidance around 20 health and safety procedures to be adapted on a local basis. The purpose is to help guide hotels across the brand take a uniform approach to ensuring guests’ safety and peace of mind from check-in to check-out.

The heaviest lift is done by the hospitality team and not the business traveler, which is intentional. The Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol clearly states that it “includes procedures to ensure the safety of our guests whilst minimizing any negative or limiting impact on the guest experience.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that there won’t be adjustments in the new normal. For example, loose items such as pens and notepads will be removed from guest rooms and mini-bars are closed or removed. Whether restaurants, cafes, bars, or fitness centers are open is dependent on the discretion of each individual location. For a global hotel brand like Radisson, local/national legislations and regulations are followed at minimum with each property’s team deciding additional safety measures from there.

That, however, doesn’t mean that business travelers today will go without coffee, breakfast, or a workout. Hotels are coming up with increasingly creative ways to make sure that all of the business traveler’s needs are taken care of without compromising their safety. It might be breakfast in a bag, complementary coffee to go outside of the lobby, and workout videos inside the rooms, for example.

For those business travelers thinking about how they’ll miss the industry conferences and events, Radisson has also outlined its protocols for event attendees and meeting rooms, and as a result is already prepared for small group meetings today.

Where We Go From Here

While this might feel like a step back for the travel industry, especially with high expectations for record tourism numbers and technological advancements suited for 2020, it is actually exactly what we as an industry need to become smarter, better, and more conscious about how and why we move around the world. We are proud to be partners with these organizations and dozens of other suppliers that are leading the industry in terms of health, safety, and sustainability practices. We trust them to do their part and we’ll do ours -- by continuing to build the most innovative T&E technology, paired with best-in-class travel agent support, to support enterprises and their travelers on the path to business recovery. Get in touch to learn more about how TripActions can help your enterprise back to traveling for business safely and cost-effectively.

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