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DfT survey reveals Covid impact on business travel

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Ninety-three per cent of businesses replaced domestic business trips with virtual meetings during the pandemic, according to new research by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The survey, conducted by Ipsos Mori, reveals that almost half (44%) of firms had replaced all trips, 41% half or more and 8% less than half. Only one-in-14 (7%) of businesses replaced none.

Business types most likely to have replaced any of their business trips with virtual meetings included large businesses (98%), medium-sized businesses (97%) and businesses in London (84%).

Essential services businesses were most likely to say they had replaced all business trips with virtual meetings (55%), while manufacturing and construction businesses were most likely to say they had not replaced any business trips with virtual meetings (16%).

Virtual meetings – usage and attitudes

Half of companies (50%) said virtual meetings are an adequate replacement for face-to-face meetings, over a quarter (28%) disagree and nearly a quarter (23%) neither agree, nor disagree.

Nearly six-in-10 companies (57%) agree that blended meetings (which have both virtual and face-to-face attendees) are an adequate replacement for face-to-face meetings, one-in-five (20%) disagree and nearly a quarter (23%) neither agree, nor disagree.

A slightly higher proportion (57%) agreed that meetings with a combination of virtual and face-to-face attendees were an adequate substitute for business trips, while large businesses (58%) were more likely to agree that meetings with only virtual attendees are an adequate replacement for face-to-face meetings - those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were significantly more likely to disagree (43%).

Large businesses (67%) and companies in the North (68%) were significantly more likely to agree that a mix of virtual and face-to-face attendees were an adequate replacement for face-to-face meetings – companies in the South (excluding London) were significantly less likely to agree (46%).

Projected demand for business travel post-pandemic

According to the research, companies expect an average of 38% of employees within their companies to be travelling for business, compared with 40% before the pandemic. Just 1% said no employees will travel for face-to-face meetings.

The DfT suggests that the frequency of face-to-face meetings is expected to fall as virtual meetings will remain in the mix.

Two-fifths (41%) of companies said that they expect to make fewer business trips than before the pandemic (27% somewhat less, 14% far less) and more than a quarter (27%) expect to make more business trips (19% somewhat more, 8% far more).

Almost a third (30%) said they expected to make the same level of business trips.

Assuming restrictions are no longer in place, companies said they expect to be using a similar mix of main modes as before the pandemic, with 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 said that they expect an average of 33% of trips to use car as their main mode of transport, compared with 29% pre-pandemic.

Meanwhile, 13% would choose to use long-distance rail as their main mode versus 15% pre-pandemic, and 11% would use domestic airlines compared with 14% before Covid-19 struck.

In terms of other modes, companies expect an average of 10% of trips to use local trains as the main mode versus 14% pre-pandemic and 11% during the pandemic.

The DfT says that 7% will use local buses, compared with 6% pre-pandemic and 4% during, and 5% will use taxis, which is an increase on the 3% pre-pandemic and 5% during.

Other modes, including cycling and walking will account for 3% of business trips, which is the same as proportion seen pre-pandemic and down from the 5% seen during Covid-19.

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