Global crises have a way of exposing truths.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned how essential our “essential workers” truly are, and that most of the time their pay doesn’t reflect their value. Employers and employees showed their true colors: where some employers handled the ever-changing situation with empathy and ethics, others failed their workers spectacularly. Employees such as first responders and frontline workers were rightfully hailed as heroes, and many went above and beyond to help keep people safe and businesses afloat in troubled times.
Some of the biggest adjustments happened in the travel industry as the world closed borders to try to contain the virus. As a result, business travel ground to a halt. Virtual meetings and working from home became the norm, almost overnight. In late 2020, Bill Gates anticipated the effect this would have on post-pandemic life: “My prediction would be that over 50% of business travel and over 30% of days in the office will go away.” Now that most of the world believes we have come through the worst of it, we are beginning to see what changes may be here to stay.
This could have been an email.
The saying used to go, “This meeting could have been an email,” but COVID-related travel restrictions showed that many business trips “could have been” virtual meetings all along. Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been on the receiving end of the jackpot, with arguably one of the most important meetings of modern global politics, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing NATO, happening virtually. The availability and quality of online meeting technology makes it hard to contend that such a large percentage of business meetings need to be in person anymore.
While travel budgets and priorities most certainly have changed, that doesn’t mean face-to-face interactions have entirely disappeared. At the Singapore Airshow 2022 media roundtable in January 2022, Changi Airport Group’s (CAG) Lim Ching Kiat predicted, “I think some essential business travel will return. People also want to establish new relationships. They can maintain existing relationships via video calls, but nothing beats networking in person to forge new partnerships.” Victoria Magaz, Sales Lead, APAC for Microsoft, agrees. She was back in the air quickly once travel became possible again. “I had team members and customers that I’d never met in person because of the travel restrictions. So as soon as I could make it work, it was really important to me to physically go there to connect with them in real life.”
Lim, Changi’s Managing Director of Airhub Development, also suggested that businesses feel the “need to get back to their customers, before their competitors close in.” After having not been around for so long, business travelers are also looking forward to re-engaging with colleagues and clients alike. “Relationship building in person takes a deeper dimension, a more personal dimension, too, and it’s very important to instill trust to get our partners to share more with us so we can both get the most out of our partnership,” says Sandrine Louvel, a sales executive at a large multinational corporation.
Passenger movement is on the rise.
As restrictions loosen, the statistics tell the story. In December 2021, Changi Airport saw the highest level of passenger movement since the start of the pandemic. And passenger movement in just January and February of this year are already nearly half of those of the entire year of 2021. While these numbers include leisure travel as well as business travel, it indicates a significant recovery from the critically low numbers in 2020 and 2021.
The implications from the global travel downturn will undoubtedly change the face of travel forever. With the birth of new and start-up airlines outpacing the demise of existing airlines, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the renewed competition will hopefully turn around the floundering industry and drive prices down from the shocking levels seen as of late. Processes and procedures will undoubtedly change too, also for the better it seems. Changi Airport reports contactless systems will, for the most part, stay in place while digital ticketing and check in will be facilitated and encouraged in order to improve efficiency and reduce health risks.