As overall appetite for business travel is low, efforts to increase business travel into the UK may not be as successful as hoped. The government recently announced that business travelers of ‘high value’ were allowed to enter and without being obliged quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

Arrivals from countries with strong business links to the UK such as the US, Spain, France and China previously would have had to endure a 14-day quarantine period, which is a large deterrent from entering the UK for a short business trip. Companies and employees have now adapted to working online. However, personal interaction gained from face-to-face business trips is hard to replace and is required to seal high-value deals and to decide on other important strategic decisions.

Only ‘high value’ business travellers will be allowed to enter the UK without enduring quarantine measures. Proof will have to be shown to border force agents that the business trip will result in at least £100m in investment, and create / preserve at least 50 jobs in the UK up to one year from arrival. These measures are in place to ensure business travellers taking advantage of this are bringing significant economic value to the UK.

However, the system comes with flaws

Whilst positively impacting the UK economy by helping to attract investment and sustain jobs, the new rule is also positive for tourism companies that rely on business travel. Business travel focused intermediaries, airlines with business class cabins and hotels that traditionally serve a large quantity of business travelers could all see an uptick in revenue as a result.

The idea looks good on paper, but maybe not in practice. It would be hard to prove that one business traveller entering the country on one specific occasion will directly save or create at least 50 jobs. If multiple business travellers are required for a specific meeting, does each traveler have to account for this, or will it be a collective input?

The UK has also just exited national lockdown restrictions, but local lockdowns are still in place. Tier three areas, where no hospitality (including hotels and restaurants) is permitted to open, are unlikely to benefit from this new rule. Travel between tiers is not advised, and so it is likely that all inbound business travel will be concentrated in the capital – London. This can be seen as unfair to other parts of the UK as many head offices are located in Tier 3 areas.

Appetite for resuming business travel is still low

According to a Verdict Community Survey, 52% of respondents are not willing to send employees abroad to MICE events in the next year. Paired with another survey where 47% of respondents think that business travel will decline in the future, it is clear that the appetite for business travel from employees and companies is still low.

Increased technology usage in the workplace, such as online video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack have made it possible for employees and businesses to communicate effectively from their own homes. The impact of an in-person meeting or event cannot be replaced, but it is clear that the appetite to resume business travel is not there just yet.

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