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Navigating open borders: What you need to know as an SME

After a long period of staffing and supply chain issues, small businesses breathed a sigh of relief last week. 

International borders reopened, and Australia lifted a major restriction that had hampered operations and growth opportunities for small, medium, and large businesses that rely on international travel.

Tom Walley, Global Managing Director at Corporate Traveller, believes that businesses looking to resume international travel will face a “new normal” way of crossing the globe, and he offers advice to Australian businesses looking to navigate their new freedoms.

“Within a couple of hours of that momentous announcement earlier in February, the phones were off the hook, and our online search volumes increased dramatically, a genuine sign of the pent-up demand of businesses wanting to travel again,” Mr Walley said.

“The key now is for those international borders to remain open, and we predict that we will see a huge lift in corporate confidence for businesses both in Australia and those wanting to trade with us. Our SMEs are the backbone of our economy, and they will lead our GDP recovery.”

The travel landscape has changed rapidly in just the last two weeks, with Norway, Bali, the Philippines, Fiji, and Vietnam reopening to fully vaccinated Australians.

“Restoring travel to and from Australia signals a return to a form of normalcy that many businesses have been waiting a long time for,” Mr Walley said.

“It also provides the confidence to resume those operations for which Australian stakeholders are required to travel, such as international sales meetings, important site visits, opening new markets, and mergers and acquisitions.

“The one thing to note is now Australia is open to the rest of the world, businesses that continued essential travel in 2020 and 2021 will be competing for a smaller number of flights as capacity comes back online, meaning a travel management company on your side is a critical part of the reopening.

“Until flight capacity returns to normal, businesses will need to plan their travel carefully to ensure they can meet their international commitments.”

Tom shares his advice for businesses seeking to return to international travel seamlessly.

Book as early as possible 

Corporate Traveller is seeing the premium economy and business class seating sell out fast on returning flights, as returning travellers opt for more space in the cabin. Tom says that businesses looking for the most competitive fares should book more than 14 days before departure. Booking ahead also enables businesses to change travel arrangements more successfully – for example, in the instance of a traveller testing positive for COVID ahead of travel.

Check flights before booking international meetings – and be flexible

While airlines are rebuilding their capacity, not all will fly internationally every day. This is where flexibility with travel dates and stopovers will help. Even after booking, Tom says in some instances, travel may not run smoothly in the current climate, and businesses need to prepare to push back a departure date or extend a trip at the last minute. Flexible airfare options will also be important as adjusting travel arrangements can incur significant costs.

Review your travel policy

Businesses could consider updating their travel policy to ensure their travellers are better protected. Insurance should include COVID coverage, while businesses may also want to expand employee travel choices – for instance, premium flight seating – to reduce infection risks and fulfil their duty of care requirements.

Use the same airline for the entire travel journey

Booking travel with the same airline will allow travellers to be supported by that carrier throughout their journey. In the instance of flight disruptions, an airline can amend all impacted flights, stopovers, and connections. Tom says travellers who use two different airlines for connecting flights can run the risk of missing a flight or having to re-check their luggage, a time-consuming and overwhelming process.

Be aware of restrictions in the destination country

Businesses should have access to real-time updates on overseas quarantine requirements and restrictions – our SAM app is the perfect example of this. The app is designed to be the ‘guardian angel’ for every Traveller in times of disruption. SAM sends flight status reports, boarding gate changes, weather, and traffic reports, as well as the latest alerts and information on border closures and restrictions that are impacting the area. 

Prior to international travel, business travellers are also provided with a checklist to ensure they are prepared and informed ahead of, during, and after travel. New restrictions may require business travellers to amend their trips. Some destinations, such as Singapore, also require proof of insurance for COVID-related medical expenses.

Be aware of testing rules

The travel environment is changing rapidly, and businesses need to ensure they keep abreast of testing and vaccinations rules. Travellers will require a negative COVID test result 24 hours before departing for the US and 48 hours before departing for the UK. 

Testing rules also differ for unvaccinated and vaccinated travellers: unvaccinated travellers only will require a negative test two days after arrival in the UK, while the fully vaccinated can travel to Canada without a test from 28 February. Tom says a company’s travel management provider can keep them informed but also advised travellers to keep an eye on SmartTraveller or the Government websites of their travel destination.

Arrive at the airport early

Frequent business travellers often arrive at airports around 90 minutes before departure. However, with the current travel process more complex and time-consuming, Tom says to arrive at least three hours before departure.

International airports in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney offer PCR testing, which can be pre-booked online through Histopath before arriving at the airport. Getting to the airport four to five hours before departure will give travellers adequate time to get tested and access their results. 

Use a travel management company to book travel

Tom says using a travel management provider for all travel arrangements, from flights and accommodation to ground transportation, offers great benefits in a complex travel environment.

Travel managers can access the full picture of a company’s travel journey and provide additional support and information to maximise a business’s duty of care to their travellers and cost savings. Travel management providers can also adjust, cancel and re-book travel arrangements on a company’s behalf.

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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