Business Travel and the Coronavirus: What You Need to Know

By Jessica Larkin

The coronavirus is dominating headlines and impacting worldwide business travel. Across the globe, there is an intense focus on mitigating the impact of the virus and containing its spread. Some of the ways this is being handled is through the suspension of corporate travel programs to impacted regions, revising policies on office visitors, and canceling events, meetings, and even major conferences.

According to a survey of 400 businesses by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), “Nearly half of businesses have already canceled or postponed at least some meetings or travel. The group estimates that up to 37% of business travel is at risk of being lost.”

In this post we will focus on the impact of the coronavirus, how to keep your employees and customers healthy, the importance of proactive communication, and the ways managed travel technology can be utilized to help.

What is the Coronavirus?

The coronavirus family itself is nothing new. In fact, there are many different strains that can impact both people and animals. However, this strain of the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, is especially dangerous.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) official name for the illness at the root of the 2019 coronavirus outbreak is COVID-19:

Common signs of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, cough, respiratory symptoms, and difficulty breathing. In cases that are more severe, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARs), kidney failure, and even death. The outbreak, which began in December 2019, is estimated to have already infected more than 93,000 people, killing over 3,000.

The Business Impact of COVID-19

The travel industry itself will be the hardest hit by COVID-19. It is being estimated by the GBTA that, “The virus could potentially cost the industry $46.6 billion per month. That translates into $559.7 billion annually, or 37% of the industry’s total 2020 forecasted global spend.”

Employers aren’t the only stakeholder group taking precautions to alleviate concerns and mitigate the spread of the disease. Universities are also canceling study abroad programs and large-scale events are also being shut down or postponed.

CNN Business highlights, “Several major conferences expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors each were canceled even if their location has yet to experience an outbreak. That’s because people traveling from around the world could bring the virus to the event, and infected people are slow to show symptoms.”

Although losing money, airlines are also being mindful of the global health impact. For instance, American Airlines is sharing the following communication with customers:

We know customers are thinking carefully about purchasing future business trips and vacations. To offer customers more flexibility, we are pleased to announce that we will waive change fees up to 14 days prior to travel for travel purchased between March 1, 2020 (4:30 p.m. CST) and March 16, 2020 (11.59 p.m. CST).

We’re currently tracking all updates to airline waivers and cancellation policies due to the coronavirus impact. You can find the latest information here.

Precautions are Necessary and Communication is Key

For organizations with a distributed workforce and employees traveling the globe, timely, factual communication is essential. Many organizations that we work with are proactively revising travel policies and restricting employees from visiting infected countries.

>>To see an example of a revised travel policy and notice to employees, you
can view the TravelBank Coronavirus Response Plan for Employees.<<

As we stated earlier this week, “The United States is expanding travel restrictions from China to Iran and heightening a travel advisory for certain regions of South Korea and Italy, according to Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday. The US has already put screening in place for anyone traveling from China, and now new screening procedures have been announced for people traveling from other “high-risk countries.”

Although dictating whether an employee can visit certain regions for personal travel isn’t ideal, we are seeing many organizations require that employees who have traveled to impacted areas work remotely for a minimum of two weeks as COVID-19 can take time to present.

COVID-19 and How Managed Travel Can Help

TravelBank’s managed travel platform enables you to adjust policies and wrap them directly into your booking technology. We are able to help you set up in-app communications to let employees know when they need to cancel existing travel to areas impacted by the coronavirus. Our travel agents are also ready assist with changes or cancellations.

While COVID-19 is significantly impacting the travel economy, its impact on the safety and health of travelers is not being taken lightly. Largely, the sentiment is not focused on lost revenues, but on the health and safety of not only travelers, but employees, customers, and the population as a whole.

The TravelBank team is here to help and we hope that COVID-19 becomes less of an issue around the world and that those infected return to health quickly. We will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions.

See live updates to airline waivers and cancellation policies due to the coronavirus impact.

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