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Pre-COVID, business travel was seen mostly as a perk for senior staff in corporate India. Startups rarely looked at business travel since entire teams were usually headquartered in one location. With the forced behavioral changes in our workplace as well as our work style, the role of travel in building, driving and strengthening both business and businesses has become increasingly relevant, and can be uniquely leveraged to meet multiple goals.

COVID brought the #FutureOfWork right to our doorstep (and into our everyday lives) much faster than anticipated. Remote teams, flexible work options, work-from-anywhere became as accepted and de rigueur (as a norm) as a laptop and company email address. With this forced change wrt where our people now were, companies were forced to drastically break away from offline interactions and move everything online, resulting in a temporary breakdown in team relationships, productivity and cohesive work.

The recent loosening of restrictions made companies rethink their approach to travel for business in order to uphold their commitments on safety to their employees, while also accepting the need to restart travel for certain key functions.

I predict three changes in how business travel will happen in India moving ahead. These predictions come mostly from my experience across the corporate and startup world, and having a front-row seat to building and developing remote and multi-city teams. 

1) Travel will become more intentional: Gone are the days where people would go to another city and plan a few meetings (in addition to leisurely time away from work). I have already seen signs of post-COVID travel being very intentionally planned and designed, to maximise in-person time with meetings, pre-defined agendas and team members addressing several key issues from an org perspective. Travel is becoming intentional and multipurpose. Employees are very mindful of second-order effects upon their return to their families and teams and are spacing out trips, by planning travel commits much ahead.

2) The rise of the “hotel-as-a-hub”: In order to maximise an individual’s time when they travel to another location, I predict that we may see the rise of community-hotel-hub which would allow multiple sorts of activities to take place. The role of the business / five-star hotel may see diminishing viability, as it would not allow for more informal or larger group catchups to happen. There is a lot of potential in companies hiring out large villas, that would allow for “post-work recreation” (with a round of one’s favorite beverage to wind down!). Startups, in particular, may move towards having a “hub” in each of their locations if they currently work out of a traditional office to welcome staff from other areas. An enterprising person may figure out what the next big chain of community hotels could look like (opportunity for a business Zostel maybe?)

3) A true mix of business and pleasure: Companies realised during the last 18 months that employees were not being more productive while working from home – they were burning out because they were often unable to say ‘no’ to additional work, and many managers were conveniently adding on saved travel time to expected work time.

As a result, both companies and employees have accepted the importance of a more balanced work week, which is more than just the cliched “work-life balance”. Companies like mine (Blume Ventures) are now allowing employees to use a defined number of weeks to work remotely (and club it with some additional vacation days) — thereby encouraging them to use their vacation time to unplug.

This is a great example of allowing employees to design their work travel around personal priorities as well. I definitely believe that the rise of the extended ‘remote workation’ is something that will drive employee business travel in the years to come. Things cannot get any better than working with a beautiful beach view, knowing that you’ll get to switch off come evening. We can expect to see longer stays and more group / family travel tethered to business trips as well.

Overall, business travel has already been made easier with the rapid introduction of digital and touchless travel services, flexible bookings, and improved customer service. The entire travel industry has become more customer-focused and friendly, which should allow for a rapid uptick in business-cum-personal travel, across industries, which will hopefully be a welcome boost for Indian travel and hospitality.

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