Chubb survey: Majority of business travelers crave face-to-face meetings

A new survey released by Chubb, entitled, “Time to Fly: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Present and Future of Business Travel,” finds that business travelers around the world believe the pandemic and related travel restrictions have negatively impacted their effectiveness on the job as well as the ability of their employers to develop business, serve clients and maintain business relationships. At the same time, business travelers report that they have personally missed traveling for work and leisure, and are eager to get back on the road.

Among the findings of the survey are:

  • Globally, 80% or more of business travelers believe they are missing something important when they cannot see body language or other visual clues that you can only get in an in-person meeting.
  • Nearly three out of four business travelers (74%) say they are less effective in their job due to the pandemic and severely limited travel opportunities. Areas that have been negatively impacted include client service and the ability to maintain relationships with clients and business partners.
  • With the proper precautions, respondents are twice as likely to feel more comfortable traveling for business than for leisure. One reason cited: business is important to their livelihood.
  • A large majority of business travelers (69%) expect that company travel budgets will be trimmed in a post-COVID world to reduce expenses.
  • 75% of business travelers are willing to pay more to keep the middle seat open when they fly.
  • 87% of business travelers have been personally concerned about contracting COVID during the pandemic and take steps to protect themselves, including wearing masks and social distancing. A smaller share (74%) say they always follow government rules. Another 24% say they sometimes follow COVID restrictions. Adherence to COVID safety protocols is highest among travelers in Latin America at 87%.

The Chubb survey polled 2,100 business travelers, aged 20 and above, who are currently employed and regularly stay overnight on business trips in a typical year. Respondents came from four regions: North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

“Effective vaccines are being rolled out, economies are beginning to stir, and travel is picking up again,” said John Thompson, division president, international accident and health, Chubb. “This was the right time to understand the perceptions of business travelers about their experiences during the pandemic, and what their expectations are for travel in a post-COVID world. What travel do regular business travelers think can be effectively replaced by meeting virtually? What is the opportunity cost of staying at your desk vs. traveling to meet in person? The answers to these and other questions are important, as businesses make decisions about future travel budgets, return to office and [create]the new criteria for traveling to meet with clients, develop business or attend conferences.”

Chris Martin, division president, North America accident and health, Chubb, added, “One of the most striking findings of our survey is how much business travelers in all regions agree: The pandemic, and the travel limitations that came with it, have cost business travelers and their employers the ability to effectively serve clients and maintain relationships with clients and business partners. This was the view of nearly 75% of respondents around the world. It didn’t matter where they live, how much they earn or how frequently they travel. We did find some differences in responses by age group, but that was largely limited to questions about fears of contracting COVID. Younger business travelers, for example, had a higher tolerance for COVID risks.”

“Our survey shows that business travelers have high levels of trust that their employer and airlines will take care of their health and safety,” said Joe Vasquez, SVP, Chubb Group, global accident & health. “They have much less confidence in the precautions being taken by their fellow travelers. These perceptions of risk may help explain why so many business travelers are now paying greater attention to the insurance coverage they have when they travel.”

Other findings from the Chubb survey:
Globally, 84% of business travelers say they cannot wait to travel again without fear of getting COVID. Four out of five say they have personally missed business travel. An even larger share (87%) say they miss leisure travel.

Most business travelers have high levels of trust in airlines. Some 85% say airlines are doing everything they can to keep travel safe. Nearly as many (77%) say travel by plane during the pandemic is safe if passengers adhere to safety protocols, including wearing a mask.

However, business travelers worry that their fellow travelers will put them at risk of getting COVID. Nearly nine out of 10 business travelers are concerned that their fellow travelers are not responsibly following COVID protocols.

While respondents miss business travel and the benefits of face-to-face meetings, they do acknowledge some benefits from working virtually. Notably, 73% say they can productively use the time they would have spent traveling. And 82% say that video conferences and phone calls can be effective alternatives to business travel.

More than four out of five business travelers (81%) say the pandemic will make them pay more attention to what travel insurance coverage they have before taking a trip. Business travelers also broadly agree (86%) that having travel insurance makes them more comfortable when traveling for business or leisure.

Some 80% of business travelers—including 43% who strongly agree—expect another pandemic at some point in the future.

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