In the spring of 2020, COVID-19 brought business travel to a screeching halt while the country and the world grappled with the consequences of our new public health reality. While elbow bumps and socially distanced meetings will replace handshakes and happy hours, some essential business travel simply can’t be replaced by a Zoom call.
Now that it may be time for some of you to get your team back on the road again, it’s crucial to keep your employees safe. Here are some recommendations on how to do just that — and maybe even save some money along the way.
Your Return to Work Checklist: Preparing the Workplace
Your checklist for a confident return to the workplace.
Before You Travel During COVID-19
Keep state quarantine restrictions in mind
Prior to scheduling travel, check for any quarantine restrictions in an employee's state or locality. Employees living in New York, for example, are currently required to quarantine for 14 days after returning from certain high-risk areas. This means they will not be able to return to an office for two weeks, nor will they be able to travel on another business trip during that time.
Use those unused plane tickets
Did your firm have to cancel flights at the beginning of COVID-19? Track down unused tickets and start planning how you can put those credits to use. Most airlines are letting customers redeem credits from canceled tickets with no change fees, with redemption dates as late as Fall 2022. Your new flight may not even cost a penny. In fact, fares on some routes have dropped significantly as business and personal travel has waned If your employee booked travel directly, ask them to exhaust all accrued credits from canceled business travel before purchasing additional fare.
Select ground transportation
Major rental car companies have announced updated and strict cleaning protocols. Most are offering contactless or curbside pick-up for car rentals. Sticking with major brands with strong reputations helps ensure your team’s safety.
If reserving private ground transportation, vet the company to make sure that all vehicles are disinfected between customers and that drivers are following all safety protocols. Ask for feedback or recommendations from within your professional network, as well as checking recent online reviews.
Book your hotel room but keep checking the rate
Corporate hotels in major and secondary cities are running a record-level low occupancy. Hotels will often drop rates to get heads in beds right up to the day of check-in. Book your flexible hotel now and check back from time to time to see if the rate has dropped. If so, cancel and rebook the room at the lower rate. Hotels want your business, so even if you booked a non-refundable rate, call the hotel and ask them if they will honor the lower rate. Most likely, they’ll do it with a smile.
Like rental car companies, hotels are adhering to strict cleaning protocols and changing check-in procedures to minimize contact. Some hotel brands’ safety protocols are truly impressive and might include air purifiers in guestrooms with HEPA filters, UV lights in public spaces that kill bacteria, glass/plexi partitions at check-in, restaurant host stand, and bar to provide safe space to communicate with staff, and touchless technology for paying — and that's just to name a few. Book accommodations where safety and cleaning has been taken to the highest level.
Download hotel and airline apps and ensure contact information is correct
Encourage employees to download any relevant hotel and airline apps to their smartphones and suggest that push notifications be turned on. Any news regarding accommodations and flights can be received in real time, as long as contact information is correct in the app.
Purchase travel insurance
Purchasing travel insurance can be a smart investment these days. Be sure to read the fine print of the travel insurance policy to learn the coverage, limitations and key differences in the various insurances — for instance, "cancel for any reason" insurance differs from "named perils" insurance, which only covers what's named in the policy. In a time when COVID-19 cases are still rampant, you should face the unpleasant reality that an employee may fall ill before they travel.
Prep for TSA security (and wear a mask)
Make sure your team is aware of the updated TSA security protocols in response to COVID-19. New measures include:
Wear a mask at all times
Hold on to your boarding pass
Remove food items from carry-on bags
A containers of hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces is allowed for carry-on (all other carry-on liquids remain capped at 3.4 ounces)
Maintain social distancing protocol
Leave yourself enough time to clear security — even though fewer people are traveling, COVID-19 has impacted airport staffing and operations
These are apt to change, so encourage traveling employees to check the TSA site before departure.
Fly… through the airport
Consider using airport greeters, especially when employees are flying into unfamiliar airports, and especially in international destinations. Many greeters will meet employees gate-side or just outside of security and whisk their clients through the airport — holding doors and avoiding crowded areas en route to a waiting, sanitized car. Usually, they also retrieve checked baggage. The best providers will be waiting with hand sanitizer and a clean mask. Greeters can also meet employees at the airport for an outbound flight and navigate the first hurdles of the journey from check-in to departure gate.
Google local for the latest travel updates and alerts
Changes and updates to COVID-19 safety protocols are extremely varied across states and localities. Keep in mind that national news sources do not always report the most up-to-the-minute travel alerts and news. Instead, Google local publications to read the latest news on your next travel destination. Online research at the destination’s local level is the best source for public safety requirements, precautions to take, information about how restaurants are operating, and more.
Use Google Maps’ COVID-19 alerts
Because of COVID-19, public transportation around the world has changed with reduced services and resulting station overcrowding, closed stations, etc. Google Maps rolled out a new release that shows relevant alerts and information from local transit authorities. You can use the information to plan accordingly and be prepared with required masks or arrive at a different time to maintain social distance.
The app is also introducing alerts from local, state, and federal governments or their websites regarding international border crossings and medical facilities.
Business (and Travel) Go On
Corporate travel during a global pandemic is difficult given the constantly changing restrictions, cancellations, and closings. Unfortunately, it’s our reality right now, and the future remains uncertain. As the COVID-19 curve flattens in parts of the world, other areas see increases. The travel industry, as well as national, state, and local governments are responding accordingly. But business, and essential travel, go on.
If your company isn’t already working with a professional travel agent, now may be the time to reconsider. A professional agent can help you get all your ducks in a row when it comes to essential travel, and to keep your team safe and your company protected. Safe travels!
Eric Hrubant is a 20+ year travel industry veteran and Owner and President of CIRE Travel, a corporate and leisure travel agency. Eric and his team of agents use their A-list connections to deliver an exceptional, concierge-like travel experience. CIRE has offices in New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Kennebunkport, Maine and serves clients across the country and around the world.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.