Business travel returns. India Inc hits the road again, packed with a load of caution

India Inc is slowly resuming business travel with caution, mostly led by employees in sales and customer services as well as the leadership teams.

Companies such as Deloitte, KPMG, Mercedes-Benz, upGrad, Dabur, Panasonic and Simplilearn said executives have started travelling for work when necessary.

“With improving sentiment, resurgence of economic activities and a growing sense of positivity and normalcy, we have gradually resumed business-critical travel again, keeping a close eye on developments,” said Martin Schwenk, managing director and chief executive, Mercedes-Benz India. The German luxury carmaker resumed two days of work from office for all employees last month.

At professional services major KPMG, employees are travelling to other cities and other countries for delivery of work. In April, KPMG’s travel was close to 100 tickets; now, it is mostly more than 1,000 tickets per month, its chief operating officer Arjun Vaidyanathan said. “Business activity has improved significantly and clients are asking for meetings now,” he said. “Clients are expecting our people on location for project delivery.”

travelling

Most companies are using a mix of virtual and physical interface to meet with customers or investors in other locations. “Just like with return to office, we are treading with caution when it comes to corporate travel, whether domestic or international,” said SV Nathan, partner at Deloitte India. “As far as possible, we continue to encourage the use of digital resources.” A significant number of Deloitte employees have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Intl Trips, Too
“They are awaiting a second jab and such precautions are still prudent,” Nathan of Deloitte said.

At edtech unicorn upGrad, domestic business travel has seen an exponential spike, increasing 5 times in August and September, compared to March-April levels. International business trips have also started.

With the company in expansion mode, senior executives and leadership team of upGrad are traveling to Mexico, Singapore, New York, London and Chicago, besides Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Hyderabad within India, its cofounder Mayank Kumar said.

Employees at consumer goods company Dabur, too, have started travelling since July.

“Executives are travelling within India for customer meetings and we have, this month, resumed international travel selectively,” a company spokesperson said. A lot of the travel is due to the launch of a factory in Indore.

Changes Post-Diwali

Travel for work has not reached pre-Covid levels yet, though companies say it will continue to show an uptrend, unless a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hits.

Sangeeta Gupta, senior vice-president at Nasscom, said most executives across IT companies are traveling within the country. “We expect international travel (for the IT sector), especially to the US, to pick up post Diwali,” she said.

Panasonic said it is encouraging use of digital means for meetings outside the base location, even as its executives have started travelling. “With branches and teams spread across the country, we have been able to manage operations smoothly without high dependency on travel,” said Adarsh Mishra, chief human resource officer, Panasonic India. “We will evaluate our travel policy post Diwali.”

Travel has started in a controlled manner at skills training company Simplilearn too. “Next quarter, travel will become more prominent if the Covid-19 situation is controlled,” said company founder Krishna Kumar.

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