Employees are ready for a return to business travel: conditionally. New survey reveals what they want and need to get on the road again.
A recent survey performed by Promoleaf in conjunction with Censuswide reveals many business travelers are ready to get back on the road. However, they are also concerned with safety. As vaccine rollouts continue, what’s on everyone’s mind is not if business travel will return but what it will look like and how companies will ensure the safety of those who travel for business.
“I'm certain that businesses will be resistant to having staff travel just for a meeting, and that's it. Meetings can take place on Zoom, without the costs of travel, and without having the staff member away from the office,” Nick Brennan, the founder and CEO of My UK SIM Card , told us. “However, not all meetings are just meetings. Many involve wining and dining as the meeting itself, or involve this after the meeting to develop relationships: for meetings like this, things will return to full normality.”
While the above may be true, many feel companies should require those who are traveling for business to be vaccinated. “If a company needs an employee to travel, they need to get their employees vaccinated,” Jessica Lim, HR manager at MyPerfectResume says. “It is not only the responsible thing to do, but it's also a measure to stop the virus from spreading. We can't expect our employees to risk their health for their job and not provide any measures to keep them safe.”
How do employees (read business travelers) feel?
First, we asked our respondents, “What precautions would you want in place to be comfortable traveling for business again?” They were allowed to choose more than one answer. The answers were pretty evenly split, with between 45% and 60% opting for at least one of the precautions below:
What precautions would you want in place to be comfortable traveling for business again?
Recent negative tests for all travelers
Enforced social distancing
Vaccines for all travelers
Even as states relax standards, many of these precautions have already become the norm. Only 45% stated that everyone who was on the plane should be vaccinated, but when we dive a little deeper, our survey revealed more about how business travelers feel.
When asked if they would pay for an early vaccine if it meant they could resume business travel and how much they would pay, just over 80% said yes, they would pay. How much? While there was a wide range of answers, most would pay between $50-$300, with nearly 20% willing to pay between $300 to over $500.
Why? Well, quite simply, business travelers really want to travel again. When asked if their job was less satisfying since they could not travel, 64% said yes, and 48% said their unhappiness had reached a level where they were considering switching careers as a result.
“Compared to how business travel looked like before the pandemic,” Lim told us, “Companies need to be more responsible with the amount of travel their employees do, limit the number of employees that should travel, and take the recommended precautions before and after traveling.”
Despite this cautious approach, others feel differently. John Ross, CEO of Test Prep Insight, said, “I personally think that business travel will come roaring back after the pandemic subsides later this year. I plan to fully open business travel back up once my team has their vaccinations, and I feel that people are ready to start seeing clients in person.”
Those who travel more frequently are eager to get back to a “new normal,” whatever that looks like. A part of that may be, at least in the near future, vaccination passports.
One of the simplest solutions to enabling people to travel again is a vaccination passport. This could be carried in a digital wallet on a phone or be a physical passport, but the purpose is essentially the same: before traveling, an individual could easily “prove” they’ve had the vaccine.
At least 67% of survey respondents liked the idea. The lowest level of those in favor of passports at 41% and the highest level of indifference at 28% came from the youngest age group, those between 16-24, and arguably those at the lowest risk for severe symptoms and complications from COVID-19.
The greatest support and the lowest level of indifference came in the groups between the ages of 45-54, with those in favor around 76% and an indifference level of 6.5%. They were followed closely by those in the 35-44 range, who were 75% in favor of vaccine passports and shared a similar low level of indifference.
In fact, over 71% feel companies should require people to be vaccinated before they can travel again. In the 35-44 age group, an overwhelming 80% feel companies should require vaccines. Nearly 78% of males think requiring a vaccine is a good idea, while just under 60% of women feel the same.
This is an area where the laws can be a bit tricky. Can a company compel an employee to get the vaccine? “If travel is essential to business and employees cannot fully work remotely, then it would be reasonable for companies to ask their traveling employees to be vaccinated,” said Paul French, CEO of Intrinsic Search.
“The best a company can do without stepping into dubious waters is to strongly recommend vaccination,” Pete Sosnowski, co-founder and now VP of People at Zety explained. “Vaccination and policies surrounding it are part of the state and regional planning process; all a company can and should do is to plan around it without pretending it can replace the role of public policy-makers.”
Companies need to consider the likelihood that an unvaccinated employee is responsible for an outbreak...
“It makes sense for companies to require their people be vaccinated in order to travel for business, Rolf Bax, the Chief Human Resources Officer for Resume.io , told us. “Companies need to consider the likelihood that an unvaccinated employee is responsible for an outbreak or they bring COVID-19 back with them from wherever they have traveled.”
So while actual requirements may be born more out of public policy than actual company requirements, business travelers remain largely in favor of vaccines, proof of vaccines, and even vaccine requirements for travel.
The question then becomes: “If a company does require a vaccine, who should pay?” Our respondents (715) who felt a vaccine should be required were asked this question and allowed to choose more than one answer. Most (65%) thought that the company requiring the vaccine should pay, followed closely by the government at nearly 50%. Just over 32% felt the individual should pay.
“Our company is offering free vaccinations to all employees regardless of department and rank, just in order to bring back previous operations and workflows,” Sam Shepler, CEO of TestimonialHero, shared with us. “Whether for operations, sales, or business development, the global network is just that much more effective with in-person meetings.”
This makes sense in light of our original question about whether or not individuals would pay for a vaccine to travel. Although most would pay, even up to $300 and beyond, most also feel that someone else should pay if the vaccine is required. In large part, this is in agreement with public opinion that the vaccine should be free for everyone.
As of this writing, technically, it is free, as the government pays for it with US taxpayer dollars, at least in the United States. But those receiving the shots could still get a bill: the group administering the shot may charge a fee. In most cases, those fees will be capped or paid for by insurance companies.
A common concern is the passive spread of COVID-19. Even someone who is immune or has had the vaccine can carry the virus to others. In light of those concerns, we asked our survey respondents if the families of travelers should be vaccinated as well.
78% overall said yes, including 84% of males and 94% of those who travel on a daily basis. The more frequently someone traveled, the more likely they were to be in favor of family vaccinations. Surprisingly, although around 83% of those between the ages of 35-54 were in favor of family vaccinations, only 53% of those over 55 were in favor.
Of course, this raises additional concerns over personal privacy and what a company can require of someone who is not directly their employee, just regularly in contact with them. “Employees who travel for business can be vulnerable to contracting the virus and they, therefore, pose a significant risk to their fellow employees and customers,” French said.
Business travelers want to return to the skies, friendly or not. However, they do have caveats, and many are not only in favor of vaccines but in favor of them being required for travel. Most seem to understand there will be a “new normal.”
“Business travel should only be encouraged if it's really necessary,” Jessica Lim said. “We've learned to get our job done and communicate with others through email or video calls, causing companies to save a lot of money on flights, accommodations, and daily travel expenses.”
“Employees in important client-facing roles will still travel to meet new clients and be present during the signing of major deals and documents,” Rolf Bax told us. “But much of the routine travel, especially for visits to and checking in on subsidiaries and well-established partnerships, will be replaced by things like Zoom.”
Vaccines will be a part of that new normal. “Based on current estimates, widespread vaccination on a global scale will not be possible for a number of years and international airports will remain worrying vectors for the virus,” Bax said.
“Business travel will look limited for the near future,” Sam Shepler says. “But there is a hope that in a couple of years, with most of the world’s population properly vaccinated, we may see meetings, courtesy calls, and conventions make their comeback.”
Perhaps that is the most significant conclusion of them all. With widespread vaccinations, companies’ and employees’ cooperation, and the need and desire for in-person meetings, a new normal may look more like the old normal than we think.
Like many of us, business travelers yearn for the return of precedented times. With the help of vaccines, that can happen sooner rather than later.