Good Journey: How Coronavirus Will Impact Business Travel

The news is alarming. Just weeks ago, many of us did not even know there was a new virus sweeping its way across China, let alone have a name for it. Now coronavirus has spread to every continent on the globe. It is taking lives across Asia, Europe, and the US. Italy and Iran have been ravaged.

Store shelves are empty of sanitizers and face masks — and toilet paper! Schools and businesses are going into lockdown. The NBA and NHL have canceled the remainder of their seasons, and the lights on Broadway have gone dark. The MLB has pushed the start of its season. There will be few public holiday celebrations this spring. And as one nation after another, including the United States, declares states of emergency, the world seems to have entered a trench warfare mentality.

We are hunkering down. Pulling our loved ones close. And narrowing our lives down to that which is most important and essential. We are hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.

But what does that mean for business travelers? What do you do if your work normally takes you or your employees out of the office and into what has become an increasingly dangerous world? This article examines the potential effects of coronavirus on businesses, and what you and your company can do to mitigate travel risks.

Impacts on Industry

Coronavirus is more than a public health crisis. It is also a potential economic crisis as well. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the travel industry generates more than $5 trillion annually and employs nearly 320 million people worldwide. And the industry is calling the current pandemic the greatest threat to the industry since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

More and more companies are restricting or entirely eliminating non-essential business travel, including iconic multinationals, L’Oreal and Nestle. Heavy-hitters like Facebook and Google are among the many major organizations to cancel conferences and other lucrative corporate events.

Airline Industry Response

As affected as the travel industry as a whole may be, it’s perhaps the airline industry that will take the largest hit. According to the New York Times, with new government travel bans and business travel restrictions imposed each day, the airlines are expected to lose as much as $113 billion in worldwide revenues this year.

On March 11, for instance, the United States imposed stringent restrictions on travel from Continental Europe. American citizens and permanent residents, as well as their families, who have been traveling in Europe will be screened before being permitted entry into the US. Those who have been exposed to or potentially showing symptoms of the virus may be quarantined; all others who have traveled to the Continent will be asked to self-isolate for at least 14 days.

However, though coronavirus may be the most severe and rapidly evolving crisis the industry has weathered in recent memory, it is not the first, and it won’t be the last. From contending with the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, to efficiently managing the SARS outbreak in 2003, the airline industry has become adept at rapid response to protect and reassure its passengers.

In recent years, airlines have incorporated measures to address growing concerns over the effects of climate change on the safety of air travel and to reduce the carbon footprint of the industry as a whole.

Likewise, airlines are now implementing significant measures to ensure the health, safety, and peace of mind of travelers, including screening passengers for fever and other signs of illness in at-risk regions. Airlines are also deep-cleaning planes after every flight, and at airports and terminals around the world.

Planning Ahead

If your business makes travel essential, it’s more important now than ever to plan ahead. If you or your employees need to travel internationally, you should research disease activity and risk not only at your destination but at all the stops you will need to make along the way.

You’ll also want to stay up to date on government travel bans. The US government has issued travel warnings for highly affected areas, including not only Continental Europe, but also China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy. Russia, likewise, has closed its borders with China and Mongolia.

When you or your team are preparing for business travel, it’s also important to do your due diligence. Just as you would research the area to determine which areas are safest and which ones to avoid, it’s also important now to do a bit of advanced research to determine if and how extensively your destination is impacted by the virus.

You should also explore how local hotels, shops, businesses, and other sites you may visit are working to prevent the spread of infection. Above all, focus on practicing meticulous hygiene. The CDC recommends washing your hands frequently as the best protection against the virus. Whenever possible, use paper towels when touching door handles and other high-touch surfaces in public areas and throw the towels away immediately.

Avoid shaking hands and, if possible, try to keep a distance of 3 to 6 feet from other people, according to the World Health Organization. This is especially important if the person is coughing or sneezing.

Stay Calm

Whether you are preparing to travel for business yourself, or you’re required to dispatch your employees on business travel, the most important thing you can do is demonstrate calm, competent leadership. Panic, not the virus, is your company’s worst enemy at this point.

So it’s important to educate yourself and your staff on the virus, risks, and prevention. Provide clear and consistent messages to your team about how the virus may impact the organization, what you are doing to protect workers, their families, clients, and the business as a whole. Practice transparency with your team and customers, have contingency plans in place and let your team and clients know what they are.

Go Digital

Fortunately, in the age of technology, we have more options than ever to avoid unnecessary business travel. It’s also easier than ever to allow employees to work from home. So, if the virus continues to spread at its current rates, it is a good idea to consider allowing your staff to telecommute.

Indeed, as the virus continues to spread across the US, government and public health officials are strongly encouraging employers to allow their staff to work from home. Likewise, schools and universities nationwide are closing campuses and dorms and moving courses online. This provides yet another incentive for telework, allowing parents to stay with their children who are out of school — keeping them safe at home and out of crowded daycares!

Telecommuting will eliminate the close contact of the workplace, helping your workers stay healthy by reducing their risk of exposure to coworkers who may not yet have developed symptoms, but could still be contagious. Remote, virtual meetings will also eliminate the need for you or your employees to travel into high-risk areas.

Telecommuting may not only keep your employees healthy and protect your company’s overall productivity but, if you’re working in the health industry, it almost inevitably will save lives. Telemedicine allows care providers to connect with patients who may be experiencing virus symptoms, without requiring them to come to the clinic or hospital and possibly expose dozens of patients and healthcare workers.

The Takeaway

Coronavirus is scary and getting scarier. But calm, not panic, is the answer. With a few important precautions, from education and planning, to the implementation of telework and virtual meetings, you can protect yourself, your staff, and your business from this growing threat.


Brooke Faulkner
Brooke Faulkner
Brooke Faulkner is a mom, writer, and entrepreneur in the Pacific Northwest. She loves all things literary, doggish, and plant-based. Of those, words are her favorite. You can find more of her work on Twitter @faulknercreek.

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