There’s been a lot of talk about the post-pandemic recovery of travel and related sectors. One can find dozens of articles every day discussing the probabilities of business travel getting back to normal in 2021. Hotels, events, ground transport, tours, and a whole lot of other sectors depend on the recovery of international air travel. But this article discusses a different take on the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic – how travel in general, and business travel in specific, can help us this recovery. Why travel is indispensable and why opening up travel could be an important step towards getting back to the pre-covid levels in work and life.
The travel industry is hurting, but then so are travelers. That includes each one of us in some way or the other. As an adaptive species, perhaps we can tolerate some periods of forced sedentariness. Perhaps some level of self-delusion helps as well – work from home, virtual meetings, staycations, and the like. But at some point along the way, we realize these were no trends that we grew fond of, not options that we chose to take. If there’s one thing that our kind cannot tolerate, it’s curbing our freedom – whether to move, explore, meet or express. And travel is the kind of activity that entails all these aspects and more.
In short, travel is an essential activity and an essential industry. It propels us to go beyond the survival phase – beyond the basic necessities of life – and go for the stars. To learn, to innovate, to exchange, and to expand our horizons as human beings. To travel is to live.
Travel is Here to Stay
After the 9/11 attacks, many predicted the end of air travel or at least a huge reduction. Yet the airlines rebounded quickly and steadily. By 2017 a record four billion passengers were flown to their destinations. When people were briefly deprived of travel, they appreciated it even more. Today they are used to the inconveniences of body scans and pat-downs for the privilege of getting on board a flight to our destination. Perhaps even, it may not be about the place or even the journey, but of the many little things that we stumble on the way, the very many connections we make with fellow beings, and the experience of looking at things from a different point of view.
Whatever the case, travel has always bounced back and it will once again. When exactly? That might be hard to tell, but not because of the lack of motivation or need, rather the seemingly unending restrictions and bans.
Understanding Essential Travel
Essential travel is a buzzword these days in travel publications. With experts calling for travel to be performed only in cases where it’s necessary, and only if it can be performed within government regulations and subject to the traveler’s preparedness. While all that makes sense, they often forget the fact that travel in itself is essential for businesses and individuals. It is travel that connects organizations and enables a business to happen – from meeting people and building trust to facilitating collaborations and innovations.
The human touch aspect is often ignored in these pandemic times. What’s more stressful to patients than the viral infection itself is the trauma of having to go through it away from the care and company of their near and dear. While it’s the care of the loved ones that help people to thrive on personal fronts, in business, it’s the trust and understanding with clients and partners. Both require empathy, and empathy requires touch.
Impact on Mental Heath
The people are what makes an organization. The healthier they are, the better the impact they create. In many ways, travel helps us be sane and productive. It is well known that traveling promotes happiness and helps people take their minds off stress. It was for this reason that they started ‘paid vacations’ back in the day. Business demands have changed over the decades and so have the travel trends. New trends like bleisure trips that combine business trips with leisure activities have been gaining traction among the travel community. The ways may have changed, but the positive impact travel has on people’s health is well known.
Briefly escaping the routines and stepping away from the daily grind helps re-evaluate and reinvent one’s life. New places, events, and experiences help rewire the brain and boost confidence. Facing new challenges in unfamiliar territories, among new people, languages, and cultures, forces one to learn and adapt to a life that’s out of their comfort zone. This makes people more flexible, patient, and emotionally strong. The longer governments and corporates hold off from engaging in travel, the more they are missing out on this.
Restarting travel is essential to getting business back to normal levels for almost every industry. Connections need to be reestablished, and new ones need to be made. Meetings and conferences need to happen. Hotels, transfers, and other related services need to start as well. Travel needs may vary from industry to industry. While many sectors require more flexibility in terms of mobilizing personnel, others need more opportunities for meetings and sales-related activities. Some might see incentive trips and activities as non-essential, for many these form core aspects of their talent management efforts. The business demands may be different, but they all need travel to start again.
Travel is a major contributor to the global economy and it needs to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic situation that is rapidly evolving. Restarting business and travel share convergent considerations. Travel health preparations will require a detailed assessment to specifically address the travelers’ risks, elements of travel, and policies imposed on the traveler and itinerary. For businesses, this means bringing up new frameworks to enable and encourage travel while working within government regulations. And for governments, this means finding common grounds to facilitate more travel while finding ways to ensure the safety and security of the travelers and residents. It won’t be easy, but it’s high time we start pushing it.