Here we are at the end of another year – and, wow, what a year it has been. The challenges the world and our industry have faced over the last 12 months have been an eye-opening experience, presenting us with the opportunity to reinforce what’s working and remedy what isn’t.
While 2020 may be a year we’d like to forget, let us take a moment to highlight what happened so we can make smarter decisions moving forward. If anything, this year has taught companies with corporate travel programs that they need solid travel and duty of care policies in place to support and protect their employees when the unexpected happens. Many organizations also realized the necessity of having an experienced travel management company by your side, even as their travel programs were paused and had to be reset to meet the changing landscape.
As our clients prepare for a new year, we want you to remember one thing: we are here with you for all those moments that matter, good or bad, in 2021 and beyond.
The World Health Organization announces a mysterious coronavirus-related pneumonia in Wuhan, China, later named COVID-19. At this point, there are 59 confirmed cases, and travel precautions are already at the forefront of experts’ concerns.
An unprecedented wildfire season in Australia burns an area about the size of Austria, kills dozens of people and over a billion native animals, and destroys thousands of homes. The Australian tourism industry, which loses an estimated $4.5 billon USD, implores travelers to reschedule trips rather than cancel altogether.
The US State Department starts coordinating the repatriation of Americans due to travel restrictions and bans occurring across the world. Between Jan. 29 and May 13, it coordinates the repatriation of 85,141 Americans from 131 countries and territories.
The United Kingdom leaves the European Union and enters an “implementation period” to last until Dec. 31, 2020. During this phase, the UK continues to follow EU rules (with a few exceptions) as a free trade agreement is ironed out between the two parties. Translation: The UK’s departure from the EU has no significant impact on business travel in 2020 (but that could change for 2021).
American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) introduces Rest Assured Solutions at the Business Travel Show in London. The enhanced suite of end-to-end accommodations products and services helps companies reduce costs and out-of-policy bookings – two increasingly essential goals in 2020 as companies prioritize duty of care and savings.
The World Health Organization declares the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, acknowledging the virus will likely spread to all countries worldwide.
The Trump administration issues a travel ban on non-Americans who visited 26 European countries within 14 days of coming to the United States. To limit the spread of COVID-19, more than 200 countries and territories worldwide eventually impose measures that restrict or deter people from entering their respective borders. Companies scramble to get their traveling employees back home.
According to our internal reporting, throughout the month of March, American Express GBT helped to repatriate more than 35,000 travelers, process nearly 125,000 refunds, and monitored 140 country bans daily to help keep clients informed.
Helping our heroes: Hilton and American Express announce they will donate up to 1 million hotel room nights across the United States to frontline medical workers who need a place to sleep, recharge, or isolate from their families through the end of May.
Squeaky-clean. That becomes the top priority at hotel brands across the world as the American Hotel & Lodging Association releases its Safe Stay guidelines to standardize cleanliness. Hilton partners with Lysol for its CleanStay program, Marriott begins employing electrostatic sprayers that use hospital-grade disinfectant to sanitize surfaces, and Hyatt announces it will have a trained “hygiene manager” at all 900 locations in charge of disinfection and infectious disease prevention procedures.
It’s being used by everyone – students, employees, even your 83-year-old grandpa. Zoom and other videoconferencing tools take off with most people settling in their remote-working life. But as this becomes our main way of connecting and working, it becomes evident that virtual sessions are no substitute for in-person meetings. As expressed in this Atlas article, video calls are emotionally draining, distracting, and stressful. We also have to work harder to pick up on nonverbal communication cues and have the more personal “water-cooler” chats that are the glue of our working relationships.
As the International Air Transport Association releases a list of cleaning and disinfection guidelines airlines should follow, carriers across the world introduced beefed-up measures to ensure hygiene standards. To protect crew members and travelers, airlines also begin enforcing mask-wearing aboard planes, including potentially banning passengers who refuse to wear a face covering. Meanwhile, carriers like Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue make it easier to social distance by blocking middle seats.
Simplifying spend management, American Express GBT launches Neo1, a free-to-subscribe service that helps small to mid-sized enterprises manage all employee expenses in one place, in the UK. The tool gives companies real-time visibility of money spent, money committed, and future spend requests and integrates purchasing from Amazon Business and American Express GBT’s online travel booking tool. (Read more about how it all works.)
To help travelers feel more confident booking trips, American Express GBT launches a travel briefing platform called Travel Vitals™ that gives travelers and travel managers COVID-related health and safety information before, during, and after a trip. Data is aggregated from hundreds of vetted sources, allowing users to search for travel guidelines by destination, airline, airport, hotel chain, train operator, and ground transportation provider.
Is a lack of travel making you go a little crazy? According to a trend report from American Express, you’re not alone. Nearly half (48%) of survey respondents say that not being able to travel is taking an emotional toll, making them feel “anxious and stressed,” while 78% noted traveling is “one of the top activities they miss the most right now.”
Aug. 30–Sept. 1
American travelers rejoice as they say goodbye to expensive change fees from several airlines. Within a span of three days, United, Delta, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines announce they are doing away with change fees, not just through 2020, but for most kinds of tickets for domestic travel as well as some international flights.
Who would have thought we’d miss being on a plane this much! People in Brunei, Taiwan, Japan, and Australia are so eager to travel and hop on a plane that they start booking “flights to nowhere” that start and end in the same place. The sold-out flights resembled air travel in 2019 – i.e., they’re packed!
The number of domestic Chinese flights in September top 2019 levels, with passenger numbers indicating the local aviation sector is nearing a full recovery from the impact of COVID-19. There were a total of 371,000 domestic passenger flights this month, up 3.5% from a year ago.
American Express GBT acquires 30SecondsToFly, a technology startup specializing in artificial intelligence and messaging for business travel. The 30SecondsToFly technology will enhance travelers’ experience, enabling them to initiate automated servicing requests from their favorite messaging service – on top of the live chat options we already had in place via Amex GBT Mobile and Apple Business Chat.
In an effort to get travelers back on planes, United Airlines begins a pilot program offering on-the-spot coronavirus testing to United customers going to Hawaii from San Francisco International Airport. It later extends the trial to certain London-bound flights originating from Newark International Airport. The rapid tests, developed by Abbott Laboratories, provide results in 15 minutes.
WFH? It’s got a new meaning these days. Several hotel brands launch “work from hotel” programs, catering to a local clientele, instead of travelers, who need a respite from their work-from-home routine. Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, and InterContinental Hotels Group’s Kimpton brand are among the brands trying to lure guests for this new kind of workcation.
A record number of Americans turned out to vote in this year’s tight presidential race between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Biden is declared the victor several days later. His policy decisions regarding COVID-19, jobs, and the economy could impact the near-term future of travel, according to a Skift editorial.
It’s the last day of the Brexit implementation. If no deal can be reached by the time we ring in the new year, there will be no free-trade agreement in place. This means you can anticipate changes impacting business travel, including new entry/exit requirements for UK nationals traveling to the EU and the possibility of flight disruptions in 2021.
After the turbulent year we’ve had, we’re confident we’re ready for whatever happens. So if there is anything we can do to support you in 2021, please do not hesitate to contact your American Express GBT representative. We are here with you and for you.