We asked you, our customers and business partners across the globe, what your travel arrangements and business travels, in times of pandemic, look like. Here we share all of your stories and experiences to you and your peers across all industries and businesses.
INTERVIEW WITH MARTIN COOKE
Time Critical Director Europe at Royale International
The Royale Group is a specialist logistics provider with offices on five continents, servicing the automotive, aerospace and medical industries. Every customer and region presents different challenges and solutions, which is the reason we travelled extensively prior to the pandemic.
Worldwide travel restrictions have been an issue since the pandemic started. How has your company been able to adapt to these challenges?
Martin Cooke: Like most companies, we have had to adapt to the situation, curtailing almost all but the most essential business travel and increasing the number of virtual meetings. Travel to some locations became impossible. Any function that could be carried out remotely has moved to virtual platforms but some operational staff still need to travel and we have needed to increase support to them whilst travelling.
Do you expect current challenges will result in a permanent effect in your company’s travel behavior? How do you expect the travel experience to change in general, if at all, compared prior to COVID?
Martin Cooke: This situation will always have a permanent effect on future travel arrangements, either due to a change in attitudes to travel, or that some roles will remain virtual after travel restrictions end, but both business and leisure travel will slowly return nonetheless. Many of our team members miss the travel, the personal contact with colleagues and customers or cultural understanding that simply cannot be gained in a Zoom call.
I think there is a much greater awareness of travel health as a result of the pandemic – which is no bad thing - and this will stay with our travellers even after all travel restrictions end.
Lufthansa is striving to digitalize the check of necessary health documents needed for travel to simplify the process. Will this make the travel process easier for your company?
Martin Cooke: Definitely! Carrying files of papers for every trip feels very outdated (although very necessary at this moment) and too easy to lose track of. The digitalization helps to avoid possible errors in advance and allows quicker check-in, offering more convenience. Looking forward to more digitalization of this process.
Lufthansa Group is providing information via several channels, such as newsletters and websites, to keep customers well informed. What do you consider the most useful information source? What could we improve?
Martin Cooke: Our teams tend to refer to websites - such as Lufthansa Group for Business - for the most up-to-date information rather than waiting for newsletters, although newsletters are of course a good way to get them summary information (and they do tend to read them!).
Lufthansa Group for Business has been introduced as innovative one-stop platform for essential travel info. What are the main benefits of the site for your company?
Martin Cooke: Our travelers need to be constantly up-to-date on travel requirements and warnings, and a company with the size and scope of the Lufthansa Group has the possibility to gain far more up-to-date information than they can obtain individually, and we as a company need reliable sources. Lufthansa Group for Business provides this and is focused on the business traveler, and other relevant information such as the short video clips covering current topics are popular with our travelers. Lufthansa is a preferred partner of our company and our travelers feel safer with information provided by the company they are travelling with.
TESTIMONIAL FROM SETH UNDERWOOD
As a business owner, frequent flyer and Secretary General of the Bulgarian Golf Association, Seth Underwood regularly used to travel a lot worldwide. Listen to his story and the reasons why he is eager to travel again.
INTERVIEW WITH EMILIANO FELICIOTTI AND MURIEL BOSSERT-GUG
Travel Management the Council of Europe
The Council of Europe - located in Strasbourg, France - is an organization of 47 member states, including the 28 EU member states. Its objectives are the defense of human rights and the rule of law, the search for solutions to social problems, the development of democratic stability and the enhancement of Europe´s cultural identity and diversity. The travel budget allows the organization of events and travel for the 2500 agents, experts and guests. The travel Office ensures the proper functioning of the tools and systems connected as well as the support and information useful to travelers.
What are your respective roles as Travel Manager within the Council of Europe?
Emiliano Feliciotti: I am in charge of the strategy concerning business travel within the Council of Europe and in the External Offices. This involves managing the relationship with all our partners, such as Lufthansa Group, other air and rail service providers, our TMC and the payment card provider.
Muriel Bossert-Gug: I am also in direct contact with the service providers, but on a more operational level since I am the link between the clients (our travelers and tour operators) and the service providers (our TMC, the various transport companies and the travel insurance provider)
As Travel Manager, what are the main challenges you are facing since the beginning of this pandemic?
The initail challenge was to support users in managing all travel cancellations from March 2020 onwards, as refund and ticket usage policies were different from one airline to another, and changed over time. For booking new trips, questions about insurance coverage were also added.
The main challenge since the Spring 2020 lockdown has been to find a new way of conducting the Council of Europe´s business through the implementation of a video-conferencing platform with integrated tele-interpretation (RSI = Remote Simultanous Interpretation).
What are the temporary or permanent changes in the Council of Europe travel policy due to the Covid crisis?
The impact of the Covid crisis in 2020 has generated unforseen savings in the travel and per diem budget lines. The budget of the Council of Europe is biennial and for 2021 there are no plans to change the allocations, but the preparation of the budget for the next biennium 2022-2023 is underway and different strategies concerning human resources, working methods, virtual meetings and modernization of IT tools have to be implemented. The implementation of the resulting actions will have financial aspects.
The implementation of vide-conferencing with remote interpretation has also demonstrated that the travel of speakers is not always necessary and that a well-prepared remote intervention can also be effective. The implementation of "hybrid" meetings ( one part of the speakers in the conference room and the other part connected remotely) is clearly a direction in which Council of Europe wishes to move.
In your opinion, how much and when will business travel resume actively in your organization?
Travel restrictions for Council of Europe staff, as well as guests, have been extended until June 2021. In 2020, the Covid crisis reduced managed and paid travel 80% compared to previous years. It is likely that a recovery in activity will occur from September through early December 2021, but we do not expect the Council of Europe to exceed the 2020 volume.
The impact of RSI is also important, to avoid asking sometimes at-risk populations to travel, Operational Services is now scheduling remote meetings for late 2021.
Do you think that a vaccination passport or another digital system would be a solution to facilitate travel?
Yes an immunization passport or other digital system would be a tool that could define in advance who could travel and thus eliminate some of the total uncertainty that is currently assiociated with travel.
INTERVIEW WITH ARUN RAJA
Customer Relationship Officer at Al Ghurair Group
With a proud heritage stretching over six decades, Dubai-based Al Ghurair Group is a diversified multi-national family-owned conglomerate with interests in manufacturing, real estate and financial investments and an expanding global presence. The Group today owns a diverse range of businesses including the manufacture of flexible plastic film, extruded aluminium and galvanized steel, along with other packaging products and also operates shopping malls and manages a large real estate portfolio in Dubai.
What has changed and do you foresee potentially permanently change in your travel policy in the current situation and possibly beyond?
Travel and its parameters have indeed been changed during this ongoing pandemic and the effect of this intermission has given us an opportunity to consider how we can travel more consciously. There will be turbulence, interruption and resistance to travel for some more time but I still believe travel will be the biggest game changer. There will be an increase of travel insurance in the future and we will see more personal travel advisors who function in Business Travel - based on their expertise and experiences. Travel policies need to be amended with more robust and health conscious features added to it.
By when do you expect travel demand to improve from your organization?
In present situation, individuals are still skeptical to travel as they see countries imposing lockdowns and often limiting number of flights operations to a country. I expect improvements in the late 2nd quarter of 2021. We did have passengers since the beginning of 2021, both, for personal and business purposes.
What type of travel are you planning post Covid - essential or back to regular business travel?
Moving forward, all travel arrangements will be based on updated and accurate information about a destination, travel regulations, travel requirements and travel guidelines. Once the vaccination is gaining speed in other countries around the world, passengers’ confidence on travel – leisure or business – will improve.
How do you receive the communication provided by the Lufthansa Group airlines in the ongoing pandemic situation? How can we further support you?
The updates, information and circulars we received from the Lufthansa Group airlines during this pandemic have been helpful and were accommodating to both Travel Managers and passengers alike. The ongoing flexibility on changes to existing bookings as well to cancellations and amendments of reservation has supported us during these unprecedented times.
With regards to further support, we would like to see more information on quarantine-free countries. The entire travel industry is facing enormous challenges and a quick learning approach with up-to-date information on health and safety standards for all countries is needed at all times. The Entry Regulation pages published by the Lufthansa Group carriers helps us already today to decide on travel plans.
Do you see the PartnerPlusBenefit program bringing advantages to your organization? Any suggestions to improve or change?
The PartnerPlusBenefit program surely adds value to our organization. The service promise to passengers, the ability to receive award tickets and upgrades do help reduce the cost of travel without compromising on the quality and comfort of travel. Maybe in near future, other Lufthansa partner carriers may join the PPB program and will then extend award tickets and upgrades.
INTERVIEW WITH NITIN RAWAT
"Swaan Exports”, is a prominent name in the manufacturing, exporting and supplying of a comprehensive range of garments. Their entire portfolio is exclusively designed and fabricated by a creative team of professionals using the finest quality fabrics and other related materials. Due to its diverse features such as elegant look, fine finish, tear resistance and durability, the collection has gained wide popularity in the market. Their rich industry understanding and sharp business insight helped them become a renowned name in this industry segment.
Swaan Exports has evolved under the dynamic leadership of Mr Nitin Rawat, who started the company almost a decade ago, and now it is a well-known brand in India.
Did you travel during the Covid-19 pandemic? How was your experience travelling with the Lufthansa Group airlines during this period?
Nitin: Yes, I travelled for work from Mumbai to San Francisco in June 2020
My experience with Lufthansa Group airlines was pretty great and beyond my expectations. The entire process from the time of check-in, with the option of contact-less kiosks, disinfectant wipes provided on-board, mandatory mouth and nose coverings along with face shields etc, made me feel very safe and secure. I would like to make a special mention of Lufthansa staff’s courteous behavior in their communication with the passengers to ensure the adherence to Covid-19 safety protocols. I could sleep and breathe very comfortably on my flight.
How was the experience different from travelling prior to Covid-19?
Nitin: Prior to Covid-19, travelling was so frequent that one would definitely not bother to sit back and analyze all aspects of travel. Indeed, with Covid-19, everyone is more scared, anxious and reluctant to get on a flight. With somewhat similar anxious mindset, I also decided to undertake my business trip. However, to my surprise, I found the whole travelling experience completely hassle-free, more organized and definitely faster than before.
Why is business travel important for you and your company?
Nitin: I am a businessman with a very conventional thought process. I feel no matter how much we evolve in today’s world of digitalization; business is still more fruitful when one meets the clients in person. It is an exchange of a better understanding, ideas and most importantly trust (crucial factor for business). In my personal opinion, not all types of businesses can be done virtually, especially mine which demands the need to do the quality checks and explore new clients. After all, I want to win the trust of my end customer.
Your company is registered for PartnerPlusBenefit. If you were to mention an advantage today, what is the main one in your opinion?
Nitin: PPB is an excellent loyalty plan for our company as I get the maximum return of the money which I spend not only on my travel, but also on my employees’ travel. Lufthansa being the premium carrier to Europe and North America, I am able to connect to all my business destinations using the redemption tickets. The upgrade being the most preferred choice of award, I am able to do my long-haul sectors in Business Class which gives me great relaxation and I arrive fresh for my meetings.
INTERVIEW WITH GRAZYNA PULAWSKA
Grazyna Pulawska, member of Polish Association Singapore
The Polish Association Singapore is a non-political, non-religious and non-profit association connecting the Polish community and people passionate about Poland. Grazyna is also a director for a Foundation supporting sustainable development and public health between Asia and Europe.
Please describe how the Lufthansa Group airlines made you feel safe and secure during your last trip.
Grazyna: Admittedly, I did not read up the information on the Lufthansa website about safety measures during Covid-19 even though I know the information is available. Additionally, I was not aware of the HEPA filters as it was not critical to me. My decision to fly Lufthansa during Covid-19 heavily depended on the recommendation of the [Polish] Embassy. Lufthansa is a trusted, well-respected brand and Germany is positioned well with health and regulatory measures. For contingency planning, and in case of sudden disruption on border/quarantine measures travel would be easier within Europe via Frankfurt as we have options to travel by land. For the flight experience: I had four seats to myself and slept comfortably the entire journey from Singapore to Frankfurt. I tolerated wearing the mask even while I was sleeping; I viewed it as an obligation and a defense against spreading the virus. I did not have any insecurity the virus could spread on the flight. The crew did a wonderful job to make sure everyone on-board cooperated. Their reminders to use masks was sterner as we approached Europe as some passengers were taking this mandate lightly. It is quite interesting that the crew included a safety demo on how to wear your mask while drinking beverages on-board. Moreover, they made sure to include a gentle reminder to wear masks at all times, and not to have prolonged coffee breaks.
Did you feel safe at all times during the trip?
Grazyna: I was comfortable and had no feelings of insecurity at all times. Before my flight, I took advantage of online check-in and selected my preferred seat. Online check-in allowed me to take a sneak peek of the seat arrangements and I tried to find an open area where passengers were not next to me. All passengers received sanitizing wipes and I observed more items now individually wrapped with plastic for hygiene reasons. Of course, the crew made sure that everyone complies with wearing masks. I did not find it was necessary to carry my own sanitizers because it is available everywhere, at all touchpoints!
How was the experience different from travelling prior to Covid-19?
Grazyna: At Changi Airport, the whole experience from check-in, security, boarding process were normal. I fly regularly to Europe so I must say the key difference apart from the mask are the health cards that need to be filled out before anyone was allowed to disembark. There were 2 health cards and having seen how things are done in Asia, it is easy to question why this cannot be done electronically. What purpose a manual form will serve if we are unable to trace it quickly. I also could not understand why two health forms are needed since it requires extra effort for the crew to collect them. Of course, we just need to comply as part of the new normal no health card equals no disembarkation. I also observed for my return flight from Warsaw connecting in Frankfurt to Singapore that the ground staff had to adjust and do more document checking because we must adhere to new entry rules for the destination. In addition, an increase in guidelines required staff to take extra time at the boarding gate. Arriving in Poland, the notable changes were: (1) more guards and police are deployed (2) no arrival entourage allowed to pick you up at the airport.
Why is business travel important for you and your company?
Grazyna: The purpose of my travel was a company-supported trip home for leave to comply with the Ministry of Manpower measures; the company does generally not absorb 14-day Stay-home-notice (SHN) cost at dedicated facility. It is not complicated to travel as long as one is prepared with SHN/quarantine obligations.
After your flight experience with us, did it convince you to travel again?
Grazyna: Yes. I would love to travel as I did before. Of course, the Stay-Home-Notice at dedicated facility is a consideration. I would recommend traveling whenever you can afford it.
INTERVIEW WITH MARIKA BILÒ
Marika Biló, travel manager at Loccioni
Loccioni integrates ideas, people and technology in the development of automatic measures and quality control systems to improve the quality, the efficiency and the sustainability of products, processes and buildings. Among the most important customers there are Daimler, Ferrari, Ford, Bosch, Whirlpool, Airbus, RFI, Enel, Leonardo, Eni, Eon, Pfizer, General Electric. To improve their processes and products quality and to develop joint innovative projects, local offices are established in Germany, US, China, Japan and India.
The pandemic resulted in border closures and strongly affected business travel. What changed in business travel planning for your company?
Marika: Our way of working is always to book business travel well in advance, both for greater control over travel costs and better internal organization. Now, this is no longer possible and travel planning is happening in real time, and we must keep the entry rules of the various countries under control, unfortunately, restrictions seem to be changing hour by hour.
Have you continued to travel these past months? Are you traveling to the same extent as before or did you adapt your travel arrangements to the new conditions?
Marika: It is undeniable that a video conference cannot replace an in-person meeting, especially when it is necessary to lay the foundation for a new project. During this time, however, the number of people in the company who travel has changed, fewer are traveling for business meetings. The only employees traveling are those making a service repair or installations from scratch. In addition, if you have to move to neighboring countries, the use of a car is preferred. Car travel is more flexible and avoids the unfortunate last minute flight cancellations happening due to the health emergency.
What is the fundamental requirement for your company to be able to travel safely?
Marika: In general, air travel is not dangerous; airlines are required to use disinfection devices on board, such as HEPA filters to ensure the air is sanitized. As well as, implementation of distance measures during all phases of travel. The same measures that we have to observe during our daily life on public transportation, in stores, and restaurants, etc. Our business travelers would appreciate the opportunity to take a COVID test before returning home to their loved ones in peace and quiet.
What are the main challenges in your job as travel manager in this time of crisis?
Marika: It is all a challenge; I already expect several changes while planning a trip. Obviously, the greater flexibility, to change the date of travel is useful, but sometimes it is not enough and for this reason now we choose rates that allow the refund. It would be nice to have more planning flexibility and be able to work more systematically.
How have the Lufthansa Group companies met your company's travel needs during this period?
Marika: Our company's travelers leave from two airports, Bologna and Rome they feel they can count on a greater choice of schedules and destinations. With Lufthansa we feel confident regarding last minute cancellations or irregularities that are inevitable during this period.
Your company is registered as a PartnerPlusBenefit. If you were to mention an advantage today, what is the main one in your opinion?
Marika: During this period, as well as in normal times, I consider the use of points to purchase additional flights to be the main benefit, for us it is also useful to cover indirect costs. Moreover, the program is simple and does not require an investment of time, which especially today, is a valuable asset.
INTERVIEW WITH ERIK ILLIG
Erik Illig, Managing Director at Wilhelm Textiles India Pvt. Ltd.
Wilhelm Textiles India Private Limited is subsidiary of Werner Wilhelm GmbH, Germany. It is an Indo-German joint venture and is in operation since 1995. Wilhelm Textiles India Private Limited, with a very extensive product mix for footwear, automobile, sports goods, home furnishing and other specialized technical applications, serve over 750 customers spread all over the globe. During the last years company has been awarded multiple times, for example in 2018 by Dun and Bradstreet as the best SME in India in Textile and Garment Sector, and first with the coveted Rank of the CLE Export Award in segment shoe components other than uppers.
The factory in Gurgaon is managed by Mr. Erik Illig and a core team consisting of experienced German and Indian experts who ensure the conversion and compliance of European quality standards commercially as well as technically.
How was your experience travelling with Lufthansa Group Airlines during this Covid-19 period?
Erik: Knowing that you can trust the airline, especially in this ciritical periods is essential. With Lufthansa I am sure that protocols and procedures are respected without shortcuts. The professional stuff, the extensive measures to ensure sanitization and the food protection kits made me feel very secure. One can tell that the Lufthansa staff has interiorize the procedures and follows them strictly, as all steps from check-in, boarding, seating until de-boarding were well organized and followed all safety measures.
How was the experience different from travelling prior to Covid-19?
Erik: I personally felt that things were even more organized than usual. Though social distancing makes the queues appear long, but they were moving faster. Also, the additional check-in counters ensured a speedier process. I believe that because everything was so systematic and organized while ensuring the safety, the whole process seems much more smooth and faster than what I was expecting.
Why is business travel important for you and your company?
Erik: While in this virtually advanced world video conferencing is a great help, but cannot replace entirely the important personal contact with customers and colleagues. And so, to ensure partnerships and a strong connect with my clients, travel is crucial even during this uncertain times.
Your company is registered as a PartnerPlusBenefit. If you were to mention an advantage today, what is the main one in your opinion? Any suggestion if you may have?
Erik: The biggest benefit of the PPB program that we enjoy is the free flight based on our tickets. Our preferred awards are award tickets and upgrades. While we really appreciate the benefits of PPB on Lufthansa, we feel that Swiss should be better integrated, as upgrading of non-status passengers and lounge vouchers are not available with them.