#IanTalks: The Place of Business Travel In A Post-Pandemic World

As travel reopens and countries ease into living with Covid-19, many industries have evolved and will continue to evolve, with shifting norms and mindsets. The hospitality industry is no exception -- in fact, it would be safe to call us one of the industries most strongly impacted by the pandemic these last couple of years. We are also one of the industries that has changed most drastically, with many new practices and technologies swiftly adopted in response to the global situation.

I believe we are nearing the end of the tunnel. New mutations and variants may be emerging, but the world is also better equipped to meet them than we were two years ago. While we are painfully aware of the difficult road that still remains ahead, we at Trabble are optimistic for the hospitality industry’s future, as traveller sentiment recovers and border restrictions ease.

As a frequent flyer myself, though more for work than leisure nowadays, here are two trends surrounding business travel that I believe the hospitality industry can look forward to as we move towards a reality where we live with Covid-19.

  1. The Inevitable Return

Perhaps it will take a while for us to return to pre-pandemic numbers, but the pandemic has proven one thing: some connections simply cannot be made over a Zoom call. Business travel is certain to return.

In the 13th annual BTI Outlook, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) studied business travel spending and growth across 73 countries and 44 industries in 2021, and reported that global business travel activity has begun its rebound from the sharp downturn brought about by the pandemic. As recovery and pent-up demand ramps up, it forecasts a year-over-year spending surge of 38% in 2022, bringing global business travel expenditure to over US$1 trillion.

Despite the shift to remote work over the last two years and virtual events sometimes eclipsing the need for in-person ones, the importance and necessity of business travel to achieve business goals remains. In a poll of 40 CFOs across the world, the BTI Outlook found that travel remained important especially for those working in business areas that required high personal involvement, such as sales, business development and client account management. Out of 400 business travellers polled, 86% stated that they needed travel to accomplish their business goals.

Here at Trabble, my team and myself have been making trips to Korea via the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL), as we place great importance on nurturing high-value interactions in person. Being physically in the country allows us to forge valuable relationships with current and potential partners, helping us understand the industry in Korea as we expand into the local market. In fact, I have just arrived in Seoul, where we will be setting up a regional office!

We are just one company, but I am confident that this sentiment is echoed and shared by many other business travellers globally. Be it to connect with regional teams, or to explore expansion opportunities, business travel is bound to return, and our industry should be prepared to receive it when it does.

2. Rise of Bleisure

The return of business travel will be accompanied by a shift in the attitude towards travelling for work. Starting in 2020, quarantine periods were implemented pre- and post-trip, often doubling the original intended trip duration and leaving many with no choice but to work remotely while they served quarantine.

Now, although quarantine periods do not apply as firmly as they did before with the increase of VTLs, travellers still run the risk of having their trips interrupted or extended at the last minute due to travel restrictions or even worse, falling ill overseas. Fortunately, with remote work arrangements, most remain able to carry out their responsibilities even while stuck overseas.

This is in addition to the increase of work-from-home arrangements in general, as companies recognise the value of giving employees flexibility and freedom. Two years into the pandemic, remote work is prevalent across international markets, reports Skift, and I believe this is a change that is unlikely to be fully reversible. Likewise, Trabble has opted to go fully remote in our operations as we prefer to give our staff full ownership over their work and their preferred work environment, whether that be at home, at a cafe, or halfway across the continent. At present, we have team members located across Asia - in Pakistan, Vietnam and Malaysia, as well as our homeground Singapore.

Arrangements like ours have blurred the lines between work and travel for many travellers, with a report by the Expedia Group released in January finding that many hoped to combine work and leisure on their future trips.

With the rise of remote work both locally and across borders, bleisure trips might just be the way to go in the future - giving employees the chance to extend their work trips for a leisure vacation, or vice versa. Personally, I always try to make time in my travel schedules to soak up the local sights and sounds of my destination country. After all, it feels like a waste to have flown the distance there and not take some time to sate my wanderlust. In the long run, owing to Trabble’s unique position as a fully remote company, we aim to explore such bleisure arrangements for our team in the future as well.

Bleisure travel is an exciting opportunity for the hospitality industry, and we believe that hospitality properties and vendors who are prepared to serve this new, growing niche of travellers with travel and stay packages that accommodate their needs – a hybrid between traditional leisure and business guests – will stand to benefit much in the long run.

In conclusion, while business trips may no longer look the same as they did pre-pandemic, travel is certainly here to stay. As the world takes to the skies again, the hospitality industry must be ready to support travellers as best as we can, and be prepared for the changing mindsets and attitudes towards travel, especially in the business sphere.

To end off, I am currently in Seoul, South Korea, and will be here for a few months as we set up our Korean office. If you’d like to meet up for a cup of coffee, are interested in joining us on our journey or have someone you’d like to recommend for the team, feel free to drop us a comment on our LinkedIn and we’ll follow up with you!

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