Vaccinations against COVID-19 have started at a differing pace around the world. The approval and roll-out of more vaccines is largely seen as a positive step for the return of business travel but it’s only part of the story, and there is still much that we do not know.
According to a survey of travel managers, GBTA reported that 82% of travel buyers think the availability of vaccines has some form of impact on the return to travel. However, only 10% of that majority said employees will be able to travel for work when they have been vaccinated. Others said it would require the wider population to have also been vaccinated, which will clearly take longer. More than half responded with ‘I don’t know’.
Despite the unknowns and uncertainties, airlines are starting to put additional procedures in place. Measures such as social distancing, mask-wearing and the use of hand sanitizer are likely to continue for some time. Whether business trips at your company are still happening, imminent or are still some way away, there are some factors that you can consider now to be prepared.
Digital health passports
It has been widely reported that travellers will need to show proof of vaccination to travel as said by IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac and Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. Travellers will be encouraged to download mobile apps that will provide advice on what verifications are needed to travel. The apps contain the traveller’s COVID-19 test and vaccination details, more commonly known as digital health passports. Using apps is optional, so do not need to be mandated if your company or travellers have concerns about data privacy. Despite several calls for one standardized tool, airlines and airports are using different apps that all play the same role.
All the apps mentioned below give travellers access to their test and vaccination certificates. The apps also contain details of global testing and vaccination centres and a registry of travel requirements for destinations. Here are some of the apps being used:
IATA Travel Pass: Etihad has announced it will start trialling the app, as have Emirates and Qatar Airways.
CommonPass: Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss and JetBlue have started to roll out this app.
VeriFLY: American Airlines has introduced this app on all international travel flights into the US, with its partner British Airways starting trials.
Your TMC will be able to keep you updated on when these digital passports come into play and how best to inform travellers. Booking tools will be able to display COVID-related information so travellers can make informed decisions.
What to consider
1. Is a vaccine enough; what is your policy?
As suggested by the GBTA poll data above, a vaccine might not be enough for companies to relax business travel restrictions. You, along with other stakeholders, need to think about what needs to happen or the thresholds that will make your organization more comfortable about sending employees on business trips. Does it depend on the vaccine roll-out in the country the traveller is visiting, for example?
There are also some practical factors to consider: borders need to be opened up, travel bans lifted and restrictions such as hotel quarantine eased. Your TMC can talk you through the detail and help make amendments to your travel policy.
2. What apps travellers will need
As outlined above, there are multiple digital health passport apps. Now is a good time to find out more detail from the airlines your travellers often use. Companies that use a TMC like Corporate Traveller will have direct contacts with airlines and can talk to them on your behalf, saving you the hassle of contacting them all directly. If you eventually communicate the app/s to travellers, it may help to remind them of preferred airline partners (if you have any) so that they are more likely to only need one app. Your TMC can advise you on which direction to take and how to manage factors such as data privacy rules.
3. How travellers will react
Sadly, COVID-19 has changed the way some people think about travel. The GBTA survey of buyers taken in Dec 2020 showed 53% of respondents thought employees were willing to travel for work. What of the other 47%; they may be worried about travelling until certain measures come into place. Some may not want to have the vaccine, which may affect their ability to travel. Harvard Business Review has predicted that companies will be sued for requiring employees to have vaccination proof before they return to the workplace, will that be the case for travel too?
4. Whether the company can buy vaccines for travellers
It could be some time before the majority of the travelling population will be vaccinated.
There is an argument about whether businesses will be able to buy vaccines for employees. Harvard Business Review claims companies will make bulk purchases of the vaccine for employees and will use it as a way to attract and retain talent. But this BTN article thinks this will only happen once companies such as Astra-Zeneca and Pfizer are no longer selling to governments.