Companies Grapple with Policies, Procedures for Travel Return

Travel managers have spent much of the past two years preparing for a day that, for many, finally appears to be here: the time when their offices reopen, their employees begin traveling again, and they can get back to a professional footing that echoes, if not equals, 2019. But even with two years of preparation, pushing past the Covid-19 pandemic can be an intricate process, particularly as internal and external rules and regulations change. 

Many companies are in the midst of revising travel policies to redefine who can travel and the circumstances under which they can do so, and they are addressing the procedures in their travel programs to help would-be travelers re-enter a travel ecosystem that might be different than what they remember. 

While the ways travel policies and procedures are changing vary by company size, industry and location, most are moving forward with a momentum companies—and their travel partners—haven’t seen during the two years, said Roger Hale, president and CEO of Birmingham, Ala.-based travel management company Adtrav.

“We’ve seen it just come barreling back,” Hale told BTN last month. “More and more of our customers, are saying, ‘OK, April 1, it’s pretty much open season.’ ”

In fact, many companies are beginning to lift the pre-trip requirements they implemented during the pandemic, said Will Tate, managing partner of travel management consultancy Goldspring Consulting, but still aren’t allowing a free-for-all of unlimited business travel.

“We saw huge numbers of people move into pre-trip approval requirements, and now you’re starting to see that dissipate,” Tate said. “I’d say half to three-quarters of our clients came into pre-trip, but now they’re letting it go back.”

Still, Tate noted a level of pre-trip scrutiny that differs from pre-pandemic levels. “It seems like there is a greater scrutiny on the [return on investment] of any particular given trip,” he said. “It seems as if buyers’ organizations are now saying, I know everyone went for whatever they went for, but now I think we do want to know a little bit more about what are we going to accomplish. Do we really need five people going to the conference or will three people do that?”

Mike Cameron, CEO of Salt Lake City-based travel management company Christopherson Business Travel, told BTN in an email that he suggested clients gear re-entry procedures toward the employees for whom business travel is most critical.

“We’re recommending that clients evaluate the types of travel their organization requires to determine what’s necessary and purposeful, and then begin with those travelers re-entering first,” according to Cameron. “This requires alignment among an organization’s stakeholders, as well as engaging and listening to the needs of their business travelers.”

Cameron also noted some employees aren’t yet comfortable with the notion of business travel, and companies should take that into consideration when implementing re-entry procedures.

Companies also likely will have to consider how to approach business travel for another group of employees: those who have not received the Covid-19 vaccine, or a full-course of it. Some companies during the pandemic banned such employees from business travel just as some banned them from onsite work premises.

“A lot of companies are requiring vaccinations,” according to Brandon Strauss, co-founder and partner of business travel consultancy KesselRun Corporate Travel Solutions. For some, “there’s an unwritten policy that says, you don’t have to come back, but you ought to. And if you come back, you have to be vaccinated.”

“We do have some companies that require their people to be vaccinated to travel, and we have others who do not. It’s typically the bigger companies that are requiring the vaccination,” Adtrav’s Hale said, who said the TMC could help companies deploy pre-trip approval systems that can deny travel for any reason, vaccine-related or otherwise. “We don’t know if they’re denying that travel because they’re not vaccinated or they’re just denying the travel,” he said.