While business travel continues to grow healthily, travellers may have another potential disruption to be on guard for: the rapid rise of flu and COVID cases that are expected to peak in the coming months. A leading travel management company shares six tips for businesses looking to protect their travel from disruption – and their budget.
Tom Walley is the Global Managing Director at Corporate Traveller, Flight Centre Travel Group’s flagship travel management provider for SMEs. He says: “The rapid increase in travel bookings among Corporate Traveller customers confirms businesses understand the value of doing business face-to-face. Certain activities, such as site inspections, sales meetings, M&A meetings, product demonstrations and training, simply cannot be done well virtually.
“Business travel is here to stay, but now businesses need to get smarter at minimising disruptions. The new wave of COVID cases and rumours around the reintroduction of some restrictions tells us we are still in the middle, rather than at the end, of the pandemic. The flu is also back and we can’t afford to become complacent. While it requires more forward-planning and can be challenging to navigate updated medical advice, there are ways to take to the skies seamlessly. Many of our own customers in industries such as medical, mining and construction continued essential travel through last year’s lockdowns and restrictions with minimal disruptions.”
Below, Tom offers his advice for businesses to help minimise disruptions and continue travelling this winter.
- Understand what your travel insurance covers. Good travel insurance will offer cover for overseas medical expenses plus cancellation, amendment, and additional expenses if a traveller contracts COVID-19 during their trip and is hospitalised or forced into quarantine or isolation. Business travellers should ensure they understand the detail of the cover and who to contact if they need help. This is critical, especially hospital admission for COVID-19, which can cost an average of USD$42,200[] in the US.
The best travel insurance providers offer 24/7 assistance and claims support and can recommend accredited medical facilities and hospitals around the globe. They also augment their cover with online tools to check the latest COVID-19 travel information and advice for destinations including COVID-19 risk and infection levels and entry and quarantine requirements.
Tom encourages businesses to do their due diligence and shop around to find a policy that offers the most extensive domestic and international cover amid the current environment.
- Minimise infection risks by strategically selecting executives to travel. Having an employee become unwell during travel and unable to continue can cause major disruptions, with substantial rescheduling and insurance administration to follow. Companies can minimise infection risks by flying executives who have recently recovered from COVID or the flu or are up to date on their vaccinations. Sending executives with good immunity can also mitigate risks for clients. The COVID reinfection period was recently updated from 12 weeks to four. Despite testing requirements being scaled back, businesses would be wise to have measures in place around testing prior to travel to minimise the risks as much as possible.
- Have back-up travellers on standby. With COVID and flu cases rising, travellers risk infection up to the day of their departure. Businesses could consider having executives in place who can be ‘subbed-in’ to cover a business trip, to avoid major disruptions. This way, important meetings and activities can continue without the need for cancellations or rescheduling. A good business travel insurance policy should cover the costs involved in replacing an employee, including the cost of any ticket changes or additional accommodation requirements to replace a traveller who cannot complete the trip due to medical reasons.
- Boost ‘travel confidence’ among hesitant employees. A proportion of travellers may still be concerned about potential risks when travelling. Taking them through the company travel policy and risk mitigation strategy could increase their confidence. It may be worthwhile for businesses to conduct regular employee surveys to gauge any concerns and questions. Business could also consider allowing hesitant executives to ease back into travel with short domestic trips before they return to long-haul travel. Assigning travellers with an emergency contact for advice can also help ease fears.
- Keep informed on destination requirements and restrictions. Travel rules change regularly, with each country and state implementing their own rules. For instance, vaccination status or negative COVID tests are still required for entry to some countries such as Hong Kong and Japan. Singapore has continued its requirement for non-vaccinated travellers to show proof of SGD30,000 COVID medical cover. Businesses should keep up to date on the rules in relevant destinations, communicate these with their travellers and support their travellers in meeting the rules. The easiest method of doing so is to have a system in place that updates executives on rules in real-time. Businesses can assign an employee to this information-gathering role or onboard a travel management company that is equipped with the technology and support to help companies stay abreast of requirements and even rising COVID cases in certain destinations to minimise disruptions.
- Plan for luggage-related risks. Airport staff shortages, increased demand for travel, and some flight disruptions have led to a recent increase in misplaced luggage. While most luggage is recovered, it is important for businesses to plan for potential mishaps and ensure executives can move seamlessly in and out of airports. Businesses could encourage their travellers to take on carry-on luggage only, if possible. If check-in luggage cannot be avoided, travellers could ensure the most essential items are packed in their carry-on luggage, including a business outfit for their next meeting.
 Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, 2021: ihpi.umich.edu/news/patients-
 CoverMore. 2022. p.56