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What the ‘new normal’ now means for business travel to London

There’s a buzz in the air but travellers are still affected by Covid protocol and regulations

 ‘It all boils down to people’s individual risk appetite and whether or not the admin of international travel these days, with Covid and Brexit, is enough to put people off,’ says City of London worker Andrew McDonald. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

‘It all boils down to people’s individual risk appetite and whether or not the admin of international travel these days, with Covid and Brexit, is enough to put people off,’ says City of London worker Andrew McDonald. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

 

Getting an early morning, red-eye flight to London or Brussels was a weekly occurrence for many business travellers but that seems to be a thing of the past – for now. It’s a very different experience for the business traveller looking to arrange meetings with their counterparts around the globe these days.

Tom Otley is editor of Business Traveller magazine, based in London. He says while everything in the UK “ought to feel normal”, everything to do with travel “brings you up short”.

“From one point of view everything is open – theatres, restaurants and people are having meetings but in another way, everything has changed. Nothing is done on the spur of the moment – it takes more planning, whether that’s booking a restaurant or flight. You’re brought up against a new regulation or Covid protocol and I think that’s the thing that keeps knocking people back who are travelling.

“It’s the small things that cumulatively add up that people find frustrating. For example, in the past, if having a meeting you’d wander into the hotel reception and wait for the person to come to meet you. You can’t really do that now – you may need to book in advance. I’m currently at an event in Berlin and for that you have to prove double vaccination or a negative PCR test. You might expect to show that documentation to get into the event, but you can’t access the hotel without showing it either,” he says.

Frustration

While this might lead to frustration for the regular business traveller who is used to a seamless experience, Otley says people need to “park their frustrations” for now. “There’s no point in having those conversation with hotel staff or people at check in,” he says.

Travellers can also expect airfares to remain reasonably high, for the time being.

“At the moment the airlines have got fairly high fixed costs and they’re not at that stage of encouraging people to travel by having low prices. Even if they did low rates, I don’t think there would be a sudden amount of people travelling. There’s no point in them trying to encourage it on the business side. They made their money on long-haul flights and business-class tickets.

“Because everything is so much slower now, because of the checks, it’s too risky to try to do an over and back in a day. If you take New York, for example – in the good old days, if you were going over on a Tuesday, you could be reasonably certain most people you wanted to meet would be there that day. That isn’t the case anymore. Many people haven’t gone back to the office and if they have it might be for two days, so it’s difficult to arrange that very concentrated day of meetings,” he says.

A lot of travel, overall, is to do with risk appetite. “I’m not worried about catching it, I’m vaccinated. But if I catch Covid somewhere like Berlin, I am in deep trouble. I have to get tested to come back and I am here for 10 days which I’m not insured for. I’m stuck. There’s a lot of nerves, in that sense,” he says.

City of London

Andrew McDonald is an expat, living in London and working in banking and finance in the City of London. “Having been lucky enough to have the ability to work in the office since July 2020, I have witnessed first-hand the impact on the City that Covid has had. Over the last two months I have seen it grow from a relative ghost town last year to a gradual return over spring to an almost full return to normal over the summer. Businesses – shops, bars and restaurants – have reopened although there are a few smaller businesses that sadly didn’t survive.

“I haven’t seen a return to normal with respect to business travel but I have seen an uptick, judging by people with overnight bags hailing cabs on the street. Whether we ever go back to pre-Covid levels of business travel remains to be seen with carbon/climate impact being one of the main drivers for change.

“You can eat and drink both inside and outside venues. It is no longer table service only so you can even sit at the bar. This may vary from venue to venue depending on their own policy but the point here is that there are no longer any restrictions.

“There is definitely a buzz in the air again. Hosting the football during the summer seemed to be a major catalyst and then once Boris Johnson lifted the restrictions it was clear that people were eager to get out and live again.

“It all boils down to people’s individual risk appetite and whether or not the admin of international travel these days, with Covid and Brexit, is enough to put people off. I think anyone who is comfortable going to a pub or supermarket in Ireland should have no reason to feel unsafe coming to London,” he says.