In a recent GBTA poll, nearly one-quarter of respondents reported that their companies have already resumed or are planning to resume business travel. The report paints an optimistic picture for corporate travel recovery, with an increase in bookings, increased willingness to travel among employees, and a decrease in the number of canceled trips.
Despite all the positive signs, it’s impractical to expect travel to go back to being the way it was right away. As we discussed previously, COVID-19 has introduced an array of new variables into corporate travel. For instance, the quarantine guidelines in the country that an employee departs from could entirely change by the time they return from their trip.
The dynamic guidelines and fluctuating case numbers have rendered pre-COVID travel and expense policies obsolete. It’s time for travel managers to redefine their firms’ T&E policies to adapt to the changing circumstances and to support their employees going forward. Revising your firm’s T&E policy doesn’t have to be difficult if you’ve got a good process and a clear understanding of the new safety and liability issues.
Here’s how you can get started:
Your policy must promote visibility, safety, and compliance. It also needs to align well with new domestic and international travel regulations. To begin with, review your current policy for its effectiveness in safety and risk management, legal compliance, and spend control. You can draft your new policy much faster if you know what has changed, such as the financial constraints on your firm, the travel risks faced by employees, and the changes business travel has undergone.
Adoption and compliance
When you implement the policy, promote its adoption amongst your employees. Review your adoption rate periodically for better visibility and risk management. One good way to do this is to configure the policy in your company’s T&E management software and to require your travelers to use the software and/or mobile app. T&E software makes it easier for travel managers can monitor modifications made by employees to their itineraries and provide approval on the go, and built-in policies can restrict your travelers from booking tickets on a blacklisted airline or initiating a trip to a blacklisted city. Since travel conditions are unpredictable and new cities or countries may be blacklisted based on evolving risk factors, your policy implementation must keep up with the changes for the benefit of your travelers.
Some important things to accomplish with your new policy:
Select your preferred vendors carefully
Audit the precautions and measures undertaken by different airlines and hotels so you can choose the ones with the most appropriate proactive safety protocols in place. The same applies to cab services and rental agencies, buses, and trains.
IATA’s medical advisor, Dr. David Powell, has suggested that measures like cabin cleaning, cabin air filtration through HEPA filters, and the wearing of masks in flight, as well as health and safety measures at the airport, are more likely to benefit passengers than seat separation.
Most airlines have made it mandatory for crew and passengers to wear face masks and shields, and have initiated aggressive pre-cleaning procedures to keep everyone safe. Hotels are now offering no-touch check-ins and mandating up to 48-hour deep cleaning after guests vacate their rooms.
Control exposure to infection
It’s best to restrict employees from traveling to countries with high-risk levels or poor-quality medical services, or booking tickets on unsafe airlines:
In order to mitigate risk, firms are increasingly setting stringent approval rules for travel to medium and high-risk destinations.
Updating your policy to limit trip duration will help with both spend and safety concerns.
Minimizing the time spent in airports on layovers helps limit the traveler’s exposure to infection. You can include rules in your policy to prioritize non-stop flights wherever possible.
Discourage employees from visiting high-risk areas such as gyms, popular restaurants, tourist spots, or bars during their trip.
Establish guidelines for surface travel
Road and rail transport are excellent alternatives now since they eliminate the exposure of your travelers to overcrowded airports and planes. Road travel is safest for short-range trips that can be covered in less than five hours. Don’t forget to include rules for domestic travel in your policy: what types of vehicles are permitted, acceptable trip duration, and rules on car rentals and mileage reimbursement.
Chalk out legal requirements
Your new policy should include relevant pre-travel disclaimers and guidelines to help your employees understand the risks they’re undertaking by traveling, and the responsibilities of your firm at different stages of the trip. Clarifying these risks and responsibilities can help to prevent legal disputes later on.
Create a checklist of medical symptoms and conditions that bar an employee from embarking on business travel.
Include guidelines on compensation if an employee contracts COVID-19 while they’re on a business trip.
If you provide global travel insurance to your employees, outline its rules in the policy: what is covered, what is left out, how much you will cover, the terms and conditions, etc.
Allow leniency in booking
Travel managers have always favored booking in advance (up to two weeks or more) to save funds. However, in times of crisis, it is okay to extend the booking window to maximize flexibility. You can also take airlines’ policies into consideration—for instance, requiring that travelers use advance booking if the airline has flexible cancellation policies, but allowing later booking if cancellation won’t be an option. Since travel delays and cancellations are going to be around for the foreseeable future, it’s a good idea to talk to your travel providers about handling no-show fees, cancellation credits, and unused tickets.
Reimburse your employees for PPE and COVID-19 tests
Employers are familiar with reimbursing employees for meals, travel, and lodging—now they need to add items like face masks, sanitizers, and PPE kits to the list. Work with your legal team to check the laws in your country or state related to the reimbursement of supplies and equipment needed to travel safely. While you’re at it, update your policy with your reimbursement rules for pre-and post-travel COVID-19 tests and associated costs.
Encourage self-quarantine and remote work
Employees returning from business trips should be allowed to work from home for at least 3 weeks to minimize the possibility of infecting others at the workplace. Additionally, you can ask them to get tested for COVID-19 before returning to the workplace. For this, you should specify the type of test, the duration after which they are allowed to enter the workplace, and what reimbursement, if any, you will provide for the test.
Communicate the policy
The key to increased compliance is to communicate, communicate, and communicate. Use multiple channels to educate your employees—for instance, set up workshops before business trips, or give one-on-one training sessions where your travel team can explain the gist of the policy to each traveler. Meetings like these also provide a platform for your employees to raise questions about your travel policy and ask for clarification.
60% of business travelers don’t fully understand the reason for having a company travel policy and the benefits of having one (Amadeus).
Also, make your travel policy easily accessible. Emailing it to your employees, including it in your booking tool or expense management system, putting it out on the intranet, and even creating an individual app for it are some ways you can make it easy for your employees to access the policy.
Here’s your takeaway!
The future of business travel seems unpredictable, given ever-changing health and economic conditions. In this disarrayed situation, the more guidance and clarity you offer your employees, the smoother your firm’s transition to business travel will be. Making use of the time and space for change presented by the pandemic, travel managers should evaluate and implement technology that helps adapt to varying guidelines and streamlines T&E management. With a T&E application like Zoho Expense, travel teams can easily automate the application of policies, update them in real-time, set rules for price caps and booking timeframes, restrict flight and accommodation options, set up approval workflows, and much more. A comprehensive policy based on updated industry trends, coupled with an effective expense management solution, can do wonders for your business travelers, travel teams, and finance staff.