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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Returning To Business Travel

Travel is finally opening up, but many people are yet to hit the road for their first business trip.

“It’ll feel a little strange. And even the most seasoned business travellers among us might make a few rookie mistakes – at least until their travel muscle memory kicks in,” says FCM General Manager, Bonnie Smith.

Smith coined the term ‘travel unready’ to describe her first post-lockdown trip, and has shared a few tips and hints to help travellers on their way.

“When getting back to travel, what surprised me most was how travel ‘unready I felt. The airports were relatively busy, local flying had no onboard servicing, and hotel check-in processes had been changed to accommodate adherence to the COVID regulations,” she says.

“I forgot to pack a warm jacket for Cape Town, and I was at the airport way too early for my flight. Before COVID, I was so used to travelling, I had it all down to a science, but all of that had since been forgotten and I actually felt like I was doing it for the first time!”

Luckily, she has plenty of advice for ‘unready’ travellers and bookers alike:

Keep your traveller profile up to date

Your company’s travel management company (TMC) will provide you with guidance and support before, during, and after your trip, so it’s vital to keep your traveller profile properly updated for your safety, peace of mind, and comfort.

Take a few minutes to double-check that your emergency contacts, travel preferences, frequent flyer numbers etc. are still current and update anything that’s changed. Remember: your TMC will keep you directly updated with travel alerts and changes – so make sure they can get hold of you if needed.

Take note of your Ts&Cs

You’ll hear the term ‘flexible’ a lot lately. Unfortunately, not all flexible fares or accommodation bookings are created equal.

“A ‘flexible’ booking policy could mean the ability to make a penalty-free, last-minute cancellation, or it could mean the ability to make a single and minor change to a booking before penalties are enforced. Read the fine print!”, cautions Bonnie.

Read up on your destination

No, not only in terms of the activities and attractions on offer so you can convert your business trip into a full-blown ‘bleisure’ escape – but also in terms of COVID-related restrictions and occurrences.

What COVID regulations are currently in place? What is your destination’s mask policy? What do the numbers currently look like? What are the experts predicting for the region’s near future? It pays to be prepared. If in doubt, ask your TMC for a breakdown.

Re-read your company’s travel policy

There’s a good chance your company’s travel policy has had a post-pandemic update. Make sure that your trip is 100% compliant with the policy’s guidelines as they currently stand. Ensure that you understand what is required, what is expected of you, and who to speak to if you encounter any problems or challenges along the way.

Talk about insurance with your Travel Manager

Travel insurance is now an absolute non-negotiable when venturing further afield. Have a chat with your Travel Manager to make sure that you’re covered for the duration of your trip, and to ascertain what exactly you’re covered for. Furthermore, be sure to familiarise yourself with the procedure involved in making a claim should you need to do so while you’re away.

Know what resources are at your disposal

The best way to boost travel confidence? A place to go to be in the know.

“FCM’s Traveller Hub is the perfect example of a comprehensive resource for travellers on the move. It’s where they’ll find up-to-the-minute alerts organised by region, as well as alerts for an array of other categories including ‘airline’, ‘cruise’, and ‘rail’,” Bonnie says.

“There’s also access to a COVID-19 travel map, powered by Sherpa, providing details regarding individual countries’ entrance requirements based on passport, country of departure, and vaccination status,” she adds.

Get an app for that

Your smartphone is your best friend during travel, so make sure it’s fully charged – and that you’ve packed in spare chargers. Take the time to input your company’s TMC’s emergency contact details, along with any details for after-hours support – and download a travel app.

“Interactive travel apps have become indispensable,” says Smith. “Through FCM Mobile, we can ensure that any flight updates, changes, reminders or alerts instantly go to the traveller on their mobile device. And if they need support, even after hours, it’s available at the touch of a button.”

Understand the ins and outs of traveller tracking

According to Smith, duty of care and traveller safety is now more important than ever. Companies want to be able to track their travellers while they’re on the road. They want to know exactly where their travellers are if they need

to bring them back. And they look to their TMC to flag any potential risks, alert travellers (and the team back home) to any developments, and actively liaise with local consulates and embassies should the need arise.

Technology facilitates traveller safety. Ask your TMC about their duty of care capabilities, like customised dashboards where travel managers can get an immediate snapshot of where their travellers are, including flight times, ETAs, accommodation, itineraries – or 24/7 chat and call-back functionality so travellers can ask for advice and support any time, any place.

Pre-arrange lounge access

The business-class lounge is the perfect spot in which to unwind and perhaps get some work done ahead of your flight. However, in an effort to comply with COVID-19 health and safety regulations, the majority of airport lounges have had to reduce capacity. This means that access definitely isn’t guaranteed – unless you pre-book your place, of course. Chat to your travel consultant and they will be happy to arrange access on your behalf.

Pack the essentials

It’s no longer just a well-fitted suit and comfy shoes that you need to worry about when packing your bags for a business trip. You also need to ensure that you’ve packed your chargers (you definitely don’t want to find yourself without a functioning smartphone in these uncertain times), sanitiser, face masks, and lots of immune boosters.

It’s a good idea to draw up a list of the essentials a few days before you’re due to depart for total peace of mind that you haven’t left anything important behind.

Know what tests and documents you’ll need

Whether or not you’ve been vaccinated will play a massive role in dictating the options available to you when it comes to international business (and leisure) travel. Bring along proof of vaccination and get clued up on what other tests may be required in order to seamlessly gain entry into your chosen destination.

“More often than not, proof of a negative PCR test will be required regardless of a traveller’s vaccination status. It’s also important to note that different countries have different restrictions in place regarding the timings of when this test should be conducted ahead of a flight – usually between 48 – 72 hours,” explains Smith.

Check-in online

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and stress by opting to check-in online before your flight. In fact, check-in generally opens 24 hours in advance (depending on the airline) and so arriving at the airport to check-in is already too late (if you want to avoid standby).

Keep these guidelines in mind and you’ll be sure to sail through your first post-COVID corporate travel experience without a hitch and like the well-versed traveller that you are.

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