You must have grown tired of all those corona discussions by now. Will travel return to the pre-COVID-19 level? Is it a W or V shape? Domestic travel in China is almost at the pre-pandemic level, but European flight occupancy is starting to slide. Breathe in, breathe out.
In the past few months, we’ve talked to a lot of travel managers, suppliers, agents, and technology providers, and there’s one thing we have noticed: everybody feverishly tries to figure out how to return to the old level ASAP. But the question is whether returning to 2019 levels should really be your goal. Or, in the words of Dutch football player and coach Johan Cruyff: “The right goal is not your own goal.”
With that in mind, let’s keep it simple. Scenario 1: we will return to 2019 levels and need to figure out how to bridge the gap between now and then. Scenario 2: business travel will never be the same again. Scenario 3: everything that isn’t scenario 1 and 2.
Hope is not a strategy
I can’t help but notice it’s mostly scenario 1 that people discuss. Returning to 2019 levels is a question of “when” — not “if.” Understandable, because who likes change? The first scenario is most comforting: a phenomenal vaccine will allow us to get back to normal. I’ll help you hope it will happen. But hope is a terrible strategy — and, in most cases, it’s deferred disappointment.
We tend to gravitate towards this scenario because it doesn’t require any fundamental change. The problem is, companies can’t consider this an option, as they can’t act on it — it might take a long time until we return to old levels, and chances are it won’t happen at all. This means our industry will need to adjust and a lot of people will lose their jobs — which is, of course, very sad.
Resetting in a sustainable way
I’d like to urge the industry to reset towards a sustainable future. And I’m not just talking about ‘going green.’ Sustainability means we need to consider the industry’s legacy to our (grand)children. Do we want to be an industry that is mainly controlled by white men in ther forties and fifties? Or do we prefer a cross section of our society that represents all age groups and minorities? Do we want to build organizations that pay attention to energy sources and CO2 emissions? Will we truly be considerate of our immediate environment and the people who work for and with us? Will we not only grow for growth’s sake, but also try to flourish — both as organizations and as human beings? If we want to flourish, we will have to create sustainable revenue models. They’ve been discussed endlessly. Now, it is time to act. Obscure revenue models, subsidized by suppliers, are not sustainable. This obscurity casts a shadow over things that should be spotlighted: value creation and flourishing.
Efficiency and sustainability
It’s not only a task for intermediaries and suppliers, but for every person who participates in our value chain. This means it is high time for purchasing organizations to take action. So, your difficult yet noble task is to devise a sustainable travel policy for your company. Sustainable travel programs try to minimize travel to reduce nuisance for employees and our planet. When people do travel, the goal is to achieve a maximum return at the lowest possible (health and wellbeing) risk. This means you’ll have to understand the intrinsic value of a business trip (or a business travel program), and you should be able to explain it to a wider stakeholder audience — from a return perspective rather than a cost perspective.
It’s a fantastic opportunity to burst out of your cost-effective cocoon: you can explain what business travel yields and why it’s so important to take good care of your road warriors. As a result, terms such as ‘efficiency’ and ‘sustainability’ get a whole new meaning.
So, the question is not whether we will return to the old level, but whether it’s time to take things to the next level. Or is this wishful thinking?