Vertical Markets

Business travel bounce back – of sorts

by Mark Rowe

In our December 2022 print edition, we featured Bob Quick, former Surrey Chief Constble and a Met Assistant Commissioner, a founder in 2017 of Global Secure Accreditation (GSA); the ISO 31030, an international standard covering travel risk management, and how a corporate business has used that guidance document.

After a 50 percent shrink in global travel during 2020 (according to McKinsey), the route back to a sustained and sustainable business travel outlook has been slow. Many expected a significant bounce back in 2022, only for this to be stunted by the Omicron COVID-19 variant. As the world faces new challenges and bigger uncertainties, will 2023 be the year that business travel returns to its pre-pandemic levels? Lee Whiteing, pictured, Commercial Director of Global Secure Accreditation is not certain – but explores reasons for optimism.

Making predictions in the travel industry has always been a fool’s game, but even more so since the pandemic. While the industry has faced significant challenges in the past from economic slowdowns, fiscal meltdowns and terrorism, nothing approached the scale and scope of the disaster that was Covid-19 for the business travel industry. As the industry now looks forward to 2023, there are reasons for optimism, but also key trends that are emerging to provide new opportunities for agile and effective travel businesses.

The hangover from various variants of Covid-19, combined with an industry that struggled to cope with significant consumer demand for travel, led to major challenges in the road to recovery in 2022. Hotels struggled to recruit enough staff – leaving rooms unoccupied – and few can forget the scenes at airports peak vacation times and national holidays.

In some ways this was encouraging as consumer demand for travel outstripped supply. Whether leisure passengers will be put off by the experiences of 2022 or sufficient time will have passed before 2023 to dim the memory, the expectation is that the industry will be better placed to cope with the high season demand next year.

For business travellers the situation was less clear. An April 2022 Deloitte report suggested that corporate travel costs were 50 percent of what they were in 2019. Perhaps there is optimism in this figure too – since this number comes only weeks after the latest concerns over a re-emergence of Covid.

Despite an uncertain economy the expectation is that business travel will recover significantly in 2023, but it is also reasonable to assume it might never reach its previous levels. Corporates – forced to cope without travel for so long – will be more discerning when weighing up the value in a business journey. Corporate events and exhibitions have bounced back strongly, demonstrating a hunger from the business community to meet in person. I expect 2023 will see increased travel but with an emphasis on delivering real value from budgets.

Duty of care

One certainty is an increased focus on employee wellbeing while travelling for business. The pandemic raised corporate concerns over duty of care issues, with employers sending employees home rather than risk their wellbeing. With the return to a (largely) hybrid way of working, travel managers will need to consider carefully how to keep employees safe when on the move. This extends to those employees that are asked to ‘work from holiday’ where legal jurisdictions could be blurred.

The new ISO 31030 standard for Travel Risk Management provides a blueprint for companies to ensure their travel risk management policies and procedures are of the required standard to reflect modern risk. Historically corporates have been more concerned about employees driving when tired or under the influence, but ISO 31030 demonstrates duty of care extends far beyond these parameters to incorporate not only travel to a destination but also the accommodation used by business travellers.

Rising expectations for accommodation providers

The safety and security of where business travellers stay will become an important consideration for corporates that wish to demonstrate high levels of duty of care to their employees. To ensure a safe stay for business travellers, hotels and other serviced accommodation providers will be increasingly challenged by corporations to demonstrate they are delivering high standards of security.

Where it was previously the norm to consider five-star hotels as safe and secure, corporates and travel managers are beginning to realise that the two are not always synonymous. Accommodation providers can expect to see an increase in demand for accreditation credentials as ISO 31030 gains momentum in the business travel world.

Taking on technology

In business travel, modern technology is helping to keep employees safe, and this trend will continue. From emergency alerts on smartphones to geo-location of employees, it now easier than ever to locate missing people, quickly notify travellers of nearby risks, and report travel issues to employers from afar. However, employers will need to carefully consider the implications these kinds of tools have for employee privacy against the value they add to safety. Where to draw the line will be a topic for debate.

A sustainable travel industry

One of the biggest challenges to the travel industry will be demonstrating a route to sustainability. Airlines have embraced more sustainable fuels and eco hotels continue to flourish but the stark reality is that corporate travel needs to become greener. As corporates embrace ESG goals, travel managers will need to have a keener focus on the carbon impact of travel and how to offset this within businesses increasingly looking to share this data with key stakeholders.

While there will always be accusations of ‘greenwashing’, investment is increasingly being driven by more than profitability and there will be demand from corporate travel managers for the industry to be able to demonstrate the impact specific trips have on the planet. Finding an effective way of doing so may well be the biggest challenge for the industry in the future, especially where a more sustainable route could pose a higher risk to traveller safety.

A year of change – again

The industry has demonstrated incredible resilience in returning from what was effectively a complete shutdown. The vital signs for travel are strong – with leisure travellers demonstrating pent up demand for services and business travellers recalling the value held in face-to-face contact. The industry will be in a much better position to manage this demand in 2023, as it repositions for the future.

Change will – of course – continue. Business travellers will be more demanding of corporates in terms of their own personal safety and security, which companies are bound to pass on to the industry. Additionally, the demands for transparency over sustainability will continue to grow. If the travel industry faces these challenges with the ‘can do’ spirit it has tackled the last two years with, it will be in a strong position to flourish in 2023.

About Lee Whiteing

Lee Whiteing is the Commercial Director at Global Secure Accreditation, where he is responsible for engaging with corporate travel teams and suppliers to ensure traveller safety and security are integral to their programmes and priorities. He is also responsible for the company’s accreditation programmes for hotels and serviced accommodation. Lee was most recently Head of Global Travel Operations for HSBC, having fulfilled a number of roles in a 27-year career with the bank. While heading travel operations, Lee oversaw the consolidation of travel agencies servicing HSBC’s travel requirements globally and managed its global travel policy. Visit

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