This is how different business travel will look in 2021

Travel will never be the same. Well, not as we once knew it. But it is coming back, but this is what you can expect.

When you consider data suggests US residents had an estimated 464.4 million person-trips for business purposes in 2019, a stammering halt was a significant shift. 

Before March 2020 arrived and grounded nearly all travel — for business, pleasure, or otherwise — my family had a much different lifestyle. My fiance works for a management consulting firm and would often be out of town Monday morning through Thursday evening, giving me the apartment to myself.

And though my work has dramatically shifted in the past year, I used to pen quite a bit of travel content, which would send me on trips all over the world. But with a global pandemic and dangerous virus circulating, organizations quickly adjusted their protocols and stopped sending professionals to client meetings and events.

As the vaccination schedule continues to roll out throughout the country, many are wondering what this means for the future of travel. And for organizations that thrive on worldwide connectivity and networking, executives may be starting to consider when frequent flights will be back in motion. As with much of the past 12 months, everything is touch-and-go and unpredictable.

However, Ladders spoke with industry experts — and even a psychic! — on their predictions for 2021 corporate jet setting.

Business travel will not come back with gusto in 202

If you are dreaming of the conference circuit, with plenty of networking and fancy dinners, try not to get your hopes up just yet. As David Alwadish, the CEO and founder of ItsEasy Passport & Visa, says, many factors impact the rebound of business travel. He says it will likely be well into 2022 before levels return to where they were pre-COVID. “While there is no denying in-person communication is crucial in business, and evidence shows airplanes are not high transmission sites, not every employee will be willing to sit in a tight space for hours with 100 other people,” he explains.

Plus, it’s predicted that air travel will also require a vaccination, which something not everyone is comfortable with just yet. And the economic impact of COVID continues to come down, and with it, travel budgets will be one of the first areas companies look at to make cuts. “The return to business travel requires baby steps, and it will be a while until we see this aspect of corporate life come back with full force,” he adds.

Business travelers will demand flexibility

Before COVID-19, flexibility in booking and reservations was a perk, not a requirement for travel and hotels. Now, with so many abrupt changes and developments, wiggle room has become a necessity for all travelers, and that will continue with business trips, according to Avi Meir, the co-founder and CEO of TravelPerk. “Whether you’re traveling yourself or planning a trip for someone else, the ability to change flight times or hotel bookings is basically a prerequisite,” he continues. The same philosophy will also be woven into business meetings and communications to set client expectations should travel plans need to change at a moment’s notice. 

Safety will remain the top priority  

The new traveler’s mindset will value flexibility and, perhaps even more importantly, safety. Meri says they are seeing trends where customers ask specifically about cleaning measures and other precautions before making a booking.

This means hotels and airlines who used to bank on business travel will need to go above and beyond to reassure organizations their employees are protected. Because this will take additional time, Meir says those who succeed will be able to create a smooth transition. “Travel processes of all kinds will need to run smoother — everything from bookings to getting through airport security will become more agile and efficient,” he continues. “We need to innovate and find new ways of introducing groundbreaking technologies into the travel sector. It’s important that we start leveraging this and find ways to make the future of the travel sector — both for business and leisure — more resilient and more future-forward in the long-term.”

Transportation methods will vary greatly

As business travelers look to break out the roller bag once again, Angela Vargo the vice president of public relations for JSX believes they’ll be giving more consideration to not just ‘when’ and ‘where’ to go but ‘how.’ Though in pre-pandemic times, many executives would take a morning flight to a nearby city and an evening flight home, now they may feel more hesitant. “Whether it’s avoiding packed planes and airports by seeking alternative travel solutions or taking a road trip to short-distance destinations, the mode of transportation will play a larger part in the overall travel decision,” she predicts.

Say goodbye to the quick overnight business trips – at least for now

With many different travel rules and regulations in place, Alwadish predicts the quick overnight trips will be replaced with longer ones in the United States and internationally.

“To meet the guidelines for quarantine and ensure employees are safe, companies will need to adjust the length of trips and be prepared for employees to visit a location for weeks at a time,” he continues. “This will be hard for companies that don’t want to incur extra costs, but it is a necessary step to keep employees safe and remove any potential liabilities associated with pandemic and post-pandemic traveling.”

Domestic travel may pick up in April, while international travel may pick up in June

According to Linda Lauren, a fourth-generation psychic medium, the current administration will ease the pandemic’s economic impact on the travel sector. However, for a while, business travel will still be considered non-essential, so it will take everyone’s corporation to open up the flood — ahem, or boarding — gates again. She believes by April and May of 2021; domestic flights could be more common. And in June, she notes international treks to Europe could be possible, too. 

But even if borders and restrictions are lifted, Lauren says we won’t be saying buh-bye to virtual business anytime soon. “Many people have been working virtually from home, and for the most part, that has been working. They have only been virtually traveling,” she continues. “What we are looking at this spring/summer is only necessary business travel, and that will mean shorter trips, mask mandates, upgraded procedures and full cooperation so rules obeyed. Therefore, Virtual meetings on platforms like Zoom, Skype, will still be the answer to business travel, at least for a while.”

International travel will be delayed since passport renewals are heavily backlogged

Another reason country-hopping may be further into 2021 and early 2022 is due to a significant backlog in passport and/or visa renewals. “Currently, passport agencies are only accepting expedited renewals for life and death emergencies, causing a large backlog for anyone else attempting to renew their passport right now,” Alwadish explains. “When agency offices do open for full services again, the backlog will continue as business and recreational travelers race to get their passports renewed.”

Even though we aren’t sure when ‘normal’ will return, he recommends that employees and companies that intend to re-introduce business travel and begin the renewal process now.