Travel procurement managers face a minefield of health-related considerations when organising trips for stakeholders.
Experts at the Business Travel Show Europe 2021 laid out the issues procurement professionals should be aware of.
1. Airport queues could get longer
Simon Talling-Smith, president of The Commons Project, a non-profit digital services provider, said airports have had to operate at almost full capacity to deal with additional Covid checks, despite passenger volumes only reaching around 20% of pre-pandemic levels.
He said with the current checks needed, “airports won't work” if passenger capacity reaches 50-75%.
Long queues and bureaucracy surrounding vaccines passports may put people off travel if airport checks prove too burdensome.
Julie Avenel, vice president of global consulting at American Express Global Business Travel, said: “At some point, people may travel less if it's a nightmare. We need to find a way to smooth that out.”
When conference delegates were asked how much of a barrier was presented by vaccination and quarantine rules, 54% said they were challenging, 31% said they were fairly significant, and 15% said they were obstructive.
2. Data privacy
Samantha Simms, chief executive officer at data privacy consultancy The Information Collective, warned it is important for travel managers to research companies providing Covid travel tests to ensure maximum data and health privacy.
In order to travel abroad, travellers must provide evidence of Covid vaccination records. However, with dozens of companies available to prove your Covid status before travelling, Simms warned it was important to read the small print to understand how your data is being used before booking.
“The message is to start to ask the real questions,” she said. “Each of us need to ask, what is this doing? Check those privacy policies. We click the sign-up things all the time, but actually go back through what is actually happening here.
“So is the cat out of the bag? Presume that if you haven't done the checks, you don’t know where that data is. But if you do your checks, you can have a lot more confidence,” she said.
3. Booster jabs and new Covid treatments
Travel restrictions and requirements have been heavily impacted by the steady evolution of medical treatments for the virus.
Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer at healthcare advisory group Healix International, said the introduction of booster jabs could change what it means to be fully vaccinated, which in turn could affect future travel requirements.
He said there would be ethical implications from insisting people have a booster shot to travel.
He said: “Thinking about the wider world, what do booster shots take away from a world with finite resources, vaccines, and we have to ask whether this is the best use of vaccines, because we know there is still a finite resource that is not equally spread.”
But he said the development of new Covid treatments should reassure travellers and make business travel a smoother process.
He described how pharmaceutical company Merck is developing a tablet people can take after being diagnosed with the illness. “And then it'd be like Tamiflu for flu,” he said. “You just get tested, then the chemist gives you tablets.”
4. The impact of a new variant
Hyzler largely warned travel managers against being concerned about the impact of a new variant on future travel plans. He offered a positive outlook on the future of business travel and the pandemic.
“All pandemics do end and this one will end,” he said. “And in some countries, you could say the pandemic has ended and that it’s now endemic,” referring to countries such as Denmark where it has become more manageable with less infections and hospitalisations.
“It’s been several months since the last variant of concern emerged, and no other variant has taken hold,” he explained. He said the emergence of a new variant would be the “doomsday scenario”, but this is looking increasingly less likely.
“Lots of people are saying by spring next year, we're going to have lots more vaccines spread out more evenly. And if there are no variants that come up, we are looking towards the end of this pandemic.”
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