We’ve waited a long time to write this BTN special issue. As an industry we’ve persevered through corporate travel’s longest journey through the Covid-19 pandemic. And while we still must pay attention to caseloads and personal health risk, business travel has gained momentum; and perhaps even more importantly, organizations large and small have gained confidence that they can put their employees back out on the road, without compromising their commitment to safety and duty of care—and without continuing to compromise on business opportunities by meeting virtually.

That said, we have survived in our jobs and lives through some miracles of technology. And we shouldn’t overlook their staying power in the future of business travel. But we all know that the second the opportunity opened, the rush to see family and friends and feed our souls with in-person interactions was unstoppable. Yes, that was a lot of personal travel, and it will continue. As companies open the gates on business travel, that pent-up demand, that love of in-person collaboration may result in a tidal wave of business travel demand out of the gate, before we settle into a more routine return-to-travel scenario. 

Interviewees in this special issue aren’t all telling BTN that their companies are running toward airplanes, car rentals and hotel rooms. But honestly, plenty of them did. Company names like Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. and T-Mobile on page 12 told BTN their businesses grew during the pandemic, and business travel has already returned to pre-pandemic levels. 

Our health professional and Covid-19 trend watcher Dr. Adrian Hyzler tells us on page 6 a number of large Healix International clients are “hell for leather” in terms of eagerness to get to get back on the road, and they expect large volumes of travelers in the coming months. 

Still, some companies are more cautious, and they may continue to be more conservative, maintaining pre-trip approval and elevated sign-off levels for the foreseeable future. But even at some of these companies, the work to get that approval is clearly reduced as executives take more confidence in understanding the value of business travel and having prepared their employees, potentially requiring vaccination to travel. And collaboration between travel, HR and senior management in many companies has established guidelines that deftly protect both the organization and individual travelers. 

As travelers get back on the road, and as buyers connect more deeply with their supplier partners in the coming months, the terrain may feel different. In some ways it may be better. Travel buyers consistently tell BTN their supplier partnerships have never been stronger or more collaborative. The industry will need to continue in that collaborative spirit as we truly emerge from business travel hibernation. Challenges do lie ahead: reduced capacity for some airlines, different amenity and service availability at hotels, car rental shortages, just to name a few. The industry laid off huge numbers of employees during the depths of the pandemic, and others left in the meantime to pursue other opportunities. It’s still a time to rebuild. But it’s partnerships, patience and passion for this great industry that will fuel our current momentum and ultimately get us where we need to go.