Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Ready to get back to business travel? Read this first

During the pandemic everyone yearned for business travel to resume, but now that it has, it seems things have changed.

People all over the world are getting ready for business travel, which is starting to pick up rapidly in the wake of the pandemic.

However, as companies once more start sending employees to in-person conferences, events and meetings, you must consider that business travel and its impact on the traveller have changed from the way things were before.

If you have not been on a business trip for years, you must take heed of changed circumstances and impacting factors, says Advaita Naidoo, Africa MD at Jack Hammer Global, an executive search firm.

“Most business travellers will tell you that it was a little bit of a shock to the system during their first couple of trips and in-person events. It is not just a case of getting on the bicycle again with muscle memory making the ride a smooth one.”

The playing field has changed, companies and individual travellers must consider this before resuming business travel full throttle, as it can mean the difference between a successful mission or a waste of time and money, Naidoo says.

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Logistics may not be what they used to

“The approach to post-pandemic business travel should be as considered as the time and effort invested in return-to-office strategies. We are still in the try-out phase of best practice in terms of hybrid working and now business travel is also thrown into the mix.”

Factors that affected the return to the office also come into play when making decisions about business travel, such as the personal ecosystems and logistics of the business traveller, she says.

Previously, working parents who travelled for work mostly had a smooth-running machine back home to ensure children were taken care of while they were away. However, chances are that circumstances have changed and support systems may no longer be available, or of the same quality as before.

Naidoo says the cardinal rule of getting back in the business travel swing of things is to allow more time than before, from planning to execution. She says companies and employees should keep travel logistics, the personal ecosystem of the traveller and rebuilding networking muscle in mind.

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Travel logistics for business travel

It is harder than before to plan a successful trip. Naidoo says internationally regulations have become more onerous, while across the board the lay of the land can change at the drop of a hat.

Flights may be cancelled without warning, airport staffing may be inadequate, delays may mean connecting flights are missed and rules and regulations for entry to a country may change regularly.

Therefore, you must allow enough time to plan a trip in detail, while allowing more time for the actual travel should challenges arise. A dedicated and always-on travel agent is advisable in today’s volatile travel market, she says.

Personal ecosystem

Companies must be sensitive to the current circumstances of their ambassadors. It is not fair to assume that a previous star representative may be as happy as before to spend days and weeks away from home or can be sent abroad with only days’ notice, Naidoo warns.

It is important to get input from people before they receive travel assignments to consider what support they may require to ensure a successful trip.

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Rebuilding networking muscle

While seasoned business travellers were previously able to effortlessly catch that early morning flight, land at their destination, catch the necessary transport to their meeting or conference and proceed to shoot the lights out networking or presenting to tens, hundreds or thousands of people on behalf of their company, this is not the case anymore.

Naidoo says it is ludicrous to assume the same level of efficiency and performance at this stage, not only because the trip itself is likely to be much more onerous, but also because in-person networking is a muscle that has lost its strength as a result of more than two years of Zooming and Teamsing.

“Allowing additional time for transitioning from the travel leg to the networking leg is helpful if it is possible and just the understanding beforehand as well that the experience might be exhausting and challenging is helpful to put the attendee in a better and more realistic frame of mind.”

She says just like we recognised that seeing our colleagues in-person for particular activities has benefits which cannot be replicated if we all just work remotely forever, it is also important that we again meet our peers and business partners outside our computer screens for conferences and meetings.

Transactions can be concluded on screen, but relationships most definitely are built in person.

“However, getting back to business travel is a matter that requires more than just booking a plane ticket and registration for the event at this stage. But knowing what you are up against, planning more carefully than before and cutting yourself some slack when navigating the first few trips as a company and as a traveller, will help smooth the path towards normalcy again.”

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