Omicron could be the thing that pulls business travel out of the pandemic

Peter Grover Tripbam

Peter Grover is managing director, Europe, of rate assurance specialist Tripbam

In 1942, Winston Churchill said: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

The only things I have in common with Winston are the thinning hair and being grumpy in the mornings – and the occasional glass of champagne.

But for two years now, the business travel industry has been looking to the day when the Covid-19 pandemic ‘ends’. We’re not naive enough to think it will go away entirely — that would be too April 2020 of us. Yet, we’ve been holding out for the day when we learn to live with Covid-19. The end of the beginning.

With Omicron, that day feels closer than ever. When the more contagious variant surged at the close of last year, dashing festive plans for many of us who were either self-isolating or had family members doing so, and halting travel’s fourth-quarter upswing, it felt like just another blow in the never ending cycle of blows dealt by the virus.

However, with reports from the UK and in the US pointing to the variant causing less severe illness, Omicron could prove to be the light at the end of the tunnel we’ve all been hoping for.

It’s worth noting I’m not the only one suggesting this. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian recently said Omicron probably marks the final phase of the pandemic. New York Times writer Nate Cohn said he hoped Omicron would be Covid’s Battle of the Bulge.

Here in the UK, we feared new restrictions or lockdowns would be on their way in time for Christmas. Instead, with limited restrictions reintroduced into our day-to-day lives, Covid cases are falling.

We’d expect to see a doubling in bookings month over month between December and January. Instead, things remain fairly flat for the time being

Most of England’s residents have either been jabbed, boosted or contracted Covid — more likely than not, all three — which points to the herd immunity scientists were telling us we were aiming for back when this all kicked off.

It also tracks with the 1918 flu pandemic, which lasted about 18 months and ended after either people had been exposed to the virus or it became less life-threatening.

In the UK, the mandatory self-isolation period for those infected has now dropped to five days after a negative test result, making getting Covid far less disruptive than it once was (beyond the obvious being ill bit). And in another sign of returning to ‘normal’, there are some reports that the government will be ending its lateral flow testing programme.

It’s too early to say how quickly this all translates into corporate travel recovery. Our own stats still show hampered growth in business travel in EMEA. We’d expect to see a doubling in bookings month over month between December and January. Instead, things remain fairly flat for the time being.
And of course there are still restrictions on travel between countries to contend with, too.

Nevertheless, I find myself feeling hopeful that we’re closer to the end of this thing than ever before. It could be that Omicron is the variant that saves our industry from Covid.

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