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DfT survey reveals pandemic impact on business travel

Only 35% of businesses continued to conduct business travel during the pandemic, according to new Department for Transport (DfT) research.

Over nine in 10 companies (93%) surveyed they had replaced domestic business trips with virtual meetings during the pandemic

Carried out by Ipsos Mori in January, the online survey of 465 decision-makers found that large businesses (44%) and manufacturing and construction businesses (46%) were significantly more likely to continue to make business trips during the pandemic. This figure drops to 27% for medium-sized businesses.

The research also revealed a reduction in the proportion of employees travelling for business. Before the pandemic, an average (mean) of 40% of staff travelled for business and this reduced to 28% of staff in those companies that actually continued to make business trips during the pandemic.

The data also showed a reduction in the frequency of business travel. Prior to the pandemic, 76% of businesses said staff travelling for business did so on average at least monthly, and 40% said they did so at least weekly – this reduced to 62% and 32% respectively amongst companies that continued to make business trips during the pandemic.

Switch away from public transport

The research also revealed that use of cars, including company cars, as the main mode increased significantly – an average (mean) of 43% of trips used a car as the main mode during the pandemic, compared to 29% of trips before the pandemic.

In contrast, use of long-distance and inter-city train services as the main mode decreased significantly from 15% of trips before the pandemic to 8% during the pandemic. Domestic airline services also decreased significantly, from 14% of trips pre-pandemic to 9% during the pandemic.

Projected demand for business travel after the pandemic

The survey, which will support future transport modelling, also looked at business expectations for travel at the point all restrictions were lifted and found that companies anticipated that travel will recover to slightly lower levels than pre-pandemic, with a similar mix of modes.

Two-fifths (41%) of companies expect to make fewer business trips than before the pandemic (27% somewhat less, 14% far less) and over a quarter (27%) expect to make more business trips (19% somewhat more, 8% far more). Nearly a third (30%) expect to make the same level of business trips.

Companies expect the proportion of employees travelling for business and their frequency of business travel to return to just below pre-pandemic levels:

Companies expect an average of 38% of employees within their companies to be travelling for business (vs. 40% before the pandemic). Only 1% said no employees will be travelling for business after the pandemic.

A third of companies (34%) expect staff who travel for business to do so on average at least weekly (vs. 40% before the pandemic) and 65% at least monthly (vs. 76% before the pandemic).

With no restrictions in place, companies expect to be using a similar mix of main modes as before the pandemic – i.e. a return to long-distance rail and domestic air travel, and a reduction in the proportion of car journeys compared to levels during the pandemic.

Companies expect an average (mean) of 33% of trips to use car as the main mode (vs. 29% pre-pandemic), 13% using long-distance rail as the main mode (vs. 15% pre-pandemic), 11% using domestic airline (vs. 14% pre-pandemic).

Virtual meetings to remain key

The study also reinforced just how much virtual meetings have become a core part of day-to-day business.

Over nine in 10 companies (93%) surveyed they had replaced domestic business trips with virtual meetings during the pandemic – 44% said they had replaced all trips, 41% half or more, 8% less than half, and 7% none.

Half of companies (50%) agree that meetings which have only virtual attendees are an adequate replacement for face to face meetings. And this rises to 57% when it comes to blended meetings (which have both virtual and face to face attendees).

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.