Businesses report 'massive' distractions as COVID-19 halts corporate travel

International business development, product launches take a hit, say executives

  
Image used for illustrative purpose.

Image used for illustrative purpose.

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Businesses around the world have reported “massive” disruptions in their operations as corporate travel has mostly ceased due to the coronavirus restrictions. 

In a survey by WSJ Intelligence and VistaJet among 200 high-level company executives, 97 percent said their companies experienced negative impact directly related to travel restrictions. 

Business travel has largely been halted since the COVID-19 outbreak began last year. Many corporates have stopped sending their executives overseas, as surging COVID-19 cases have led to border closures and tight travel screenings.  

As in-person meetings became non-existent, international business development and product launches took a hit, according to more than a third (37 percent) of the respondents. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the world, including travel. It also showed that some business travel is truly essential and having to forgo in-person trips came at a real cost to companies,” said Ian Moore, chief commercial officer at VistaJet. 

“Additionally, it is hard to read a room when everyone is in individual windows on screen – misunderstandings can occur, especially across cultures, and these in turn can become costly mistakes.” 

Survey 

The survey was conducted in April 2021 among respondents in Europe, Middle East, Africa, United States and Asia Pacific, to quantify for the first time the impact of no travel on in-person meetings on their business functions and operations. 

Overall, air traffic plunged by approximately 90 percent at the height of the worldwide lockdowns in 2020.  

Since restrictions have started to ease, customers have gradually resumed travel, but so far, only the leisure segment has seen a slight uptick in demand. It remains unclear when corporate travel will return to pre-COVID-19 levels. 

Huge pent-up demand 

Among the companies polled, 90 percent said travel has been limited during the pandemic. Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) indicated massive or substantial disruptions across all eight areas measured in the study, and 87 percent cited massive or substantial disruption in at least one area. 

However, there is pent-up demand for corporate travel, with 81 percent saying business trips will be more important than ever to driving success. 

Among the respondents who take eight or more private flights a year, 60 percent plan to significantly increase in-person meetings. 

The return to business travel will largely depend on government regulations around air travel. Nearly half (46 percent) of the respondents said they are just waiting for destinations to reopen, while 42 percent want updated COVID-19 data and rules for destinations. 

(Writing by Cleofe Maceda; editing by Seban Scaria) 

Cleofe.maceda@refinitiv.com 

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