By Brent Blake, President, Acendas Travel
It truly has been an interesting last 20 months.
In March 2020, the world was rocked with a pandemic that nearly brought interaction to a grinding halt. Thankfully, medical science and outstanding health professionals reacted in haste and skill to address our challenges. Likewise, savvy business leaders adjusted to keep transactions continuing. And, dedicated front line workers kept operations flowing.
Though the bounce back has been amazing in many regards, we know the pandemic is still with us. That means we will still be monitoring daily news cycles and adjusting as necessary. People have asked me “what does business travel look like in 2022 absent a major outbreak of a variant that does not respond to treatments?”
In short, the situation is nearing “business as usual” status according to feedback from business leaders. They are ready to get back on the road to build relationships, create partnerships and sell products and services. Virtual meetings were valuable and still have a place, but the refrain from the chorus is loud – it is time to get back on the road.
What will they see and experience?
Air travel will continue to be fluid in 2022, especially the first half of the year. The airlines are smart. They know where the advance bookings are directed. Those destinations, influenced primarily by leisure travelers, will get the added flights first. If you have business in those locales, you are in a better position. Might you see some delays and cancellations? The answer is yes, but not to the level witnessed in the third and fourth quarters of 2021.
Rental car companies had extreme challenges early in the pandemic, and in some cases were forced to liquidate inventories. Then, when business ramped up, they faced car shortages when they could not acquire new vehicles. Fortunately, they were able to get back up off the mat thanks to the needs of delivery companies and vacation travelers. Balance sheets will continue to improve; and prices will remain higher than pre pandemic years until rental inventories are back to those levels (meaning you need to reserve cars well in advance of travel). That might not be until the summer of 2022.
Hotels are a bit of a mixed bag. There are some areas where they are thriving – mainly the vacation destinations. They are challenged by finding enough staff to service the clients, but in general they have the resources to make the experience a positive one for guests. Other areas will continue to struggle. That means staffing levels will remain low and amenities will be limited. Some properties, mainly in urban areas where business is still muted, have closed.
All of this change and uncertainty means travel managers, travelers and travel management companies will need to be flexible and stay on top of the situation to make certain trips facilitate business goals without putting travelers at risk.
Travel Management Companies
From the travel management company perspective, it’s definitely a new landscape. Those that did not go out of business or were not absorbed by larger conglomerates had to change. In our case, we made significant investments in technology. In fact, we accelerated our technology platform by more than five years to assist our clients in processing travel, enhancing the customer experience, and allowing us to be more nimble. The explosion of technology tools for travel has allowed us to collect more data in which to base decisions.
The pandemic was a seminal moment for travel. Similar to the days when added security measures were implemented, the silver lining in the dark cloud is travel will actually be safer and more healthy given the measures the industry has enacted. I’m looking forward to better days ahead.