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Article written by Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue. He currently serves on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce and is a global member of the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Post-pandemic recovery for international business travel is a delicate balance among what business travelers want, what business owners can provide and what governments permit.

Surveys show business travel recovery will follow leisure travel, which is already ramping up. Airlines are adding international flights to their schedules. The European Union has announced it is opening for travel in June. The U.S. is awash in vaccinations. Europe and other places are catching up. Many parts of the developed world are expected to have the opportunity throughout the summer and fall to get vaccinated.

The vaccination program is a powerful key to unlocking a return to normal business travel in the not-so-distant future. But it’s not the only key. There are many therapeutics available for COVID-19 infected patients to minimize the severity of the illness, accelerate recovery and reduce hospitalizations. Between the vaccines and the therapeutics, COVID-19 is no longer the threat it was even just a few months ago.

All these factors mean business travel should rebound quickly, steadily and vigorously, soon after leisure travel. Unfortunately, governments and other large organizations move more slowly, lagging behind what the science and the facts-on-the-ground dictate.

Some places – like the U.S. – continue to require unscientific rules like demanding fully vaccinated returning resident travelers to acquire and hand over a negative test result for COVID-19 infection. Other countries, like Thailand, South Korea and Dominica, go further by requiring fully vaccinated foreigners to undergo a mandatory quarantine. These lagging rules are regrettable. I’m hopeful officials from these and other countries amend their rules and procedures quickly to match reality.

Nevertheless, private sector organizations must be ready and agile as restrictions relax and borders reopen. This is especially true when it comes to your duty of care obligations. There has been debate among U.S. policy-makers whether there should be liability exemptions or prohibitions for business travelers who contract COVID-19 and have adverse outcomes. So far, nothing has made it into current legislation.

It’s an untested issue and a little bit like the Wild West. Traditionally, people were either in the office, traveling for PTO or traveling for work. Today, with work-from-anywhere, it becomes more complicated. Even with vaccines and therapeutics, it’s entirely possible that we’re going to see cases of business travelers becoming infected at some point as we move into this transitional period where more people are traveling.

Business leaders must have a travel risk and crisis management plan in place, if they don’t already. For those that do, they must pressure-test their plans to determine if it’s sufficient. You must put best practices in place to protect your organization, and the people in it, from these kinds of risks whether it’s COVID-19, an accident or a natural disaster. You must be able to demonstrate that you took a best-practices approach for your business and your people – for whom you are responsible. You cannot send your employees on the road and simply hope nothing bad happens. You have to take meaningful, measurable, actionable steps and be responsive to actual emergencies whether it’s for one traveler or a group of travelers.

Another piece of the travel recovery puzzle includes prevention. Some of my work on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board is to try to figure out how to mitigate these kinds of disruptions from happening. There is a technology available today that would go a long way toward preventing another pandemic from ever happening again.

Coronavirus is a disease spread by humans when we breathe, talk, cough or sneeze. The technology to noninvasively collect exhaled breath and then detect what disease people might be carrying has evolved from science fiction to science fact. Various Universities’ scientists are adapting technology used in other applications, like in automobiles to analyze exhaust gases, to analyze human breath components as you’re walking through an airport, train terminal or bus depot.

We’ll likely see devices to detect disease spring up in high-volume transportation areas the same way we saw backscatter X-ray and similar devices become commonplace following the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. The faster disease detection capabilities are deployed at strategic international terminals without impeding travel, the better.

By leveraging emerging technologies and acting strategically, and collaboratively, we can make the future of business travel less speculative and more certain. Doing so would also stop the next pandemic.


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