The dust has barely begun to settle following the EU referendum, but already businesses are starting to look at how Brexit, in whatever form it takes, might affect the very nature of the way that they do business. One small yet important part of this is business travel. UK travellers taking business trips currently enjoy free movement to EU countries for their business trips, and visa free travel to many more parts of the world. The UK leaving the EU rips up what were until recently hard certainties that could be built into any business trip planning.
In the interconnected world which we now live in, business operates across borders with customers, clients and suppliers all over the world. Businesses also know just how important business trips are, whether they’re sending employees to their own offices overseas, or to observe the work their suppliers and partners are doing abroad. Perhaps you’re designing a new product and need to guide the production in a factory outside the UK, or maybe you’re designing a new ad campaign and need to see how focus groups in different overseas markets react to different messages. Sometimes you just need to be there.
The UK leaving the EU is perhaps unlikely to stop the volume of business trips which Brits take in the short term, but it does throw up a lot of new uncertainties. Before the EU referendum took place, we carried out research in association with CensusWide looking at the attitudes of 500 frequent UK business travellers towards the prospect of Brexit. Of those we surveyed, almost a third said that they were concerned about the impact that the UK leaving the EU could have on their business trips. 1 in 4 said that they were worried that they would have to spend longer applying for visas to enter countries both inside and outside the EU, while 1 in 5 said that they were worried about delays to their journey at passport control. A similar proportion also said that they predicted rising airfares to have an adverse impact on their business trips.
As our research showed, the main problem for business travellers is uncertainty. Business as a whole dislikes uncertainty, and Brexit seems to have thrown up more uncertainty than at any time since the financial crisis of 2008. The biggest uncertainty now is in what form Brexit will take and crucially whether any deal struck includes the continuity of the free movement of people. Should this happen, businesses may see little change to the practicalities of the business trips their employees go on, and should see few increases in time costs including applying for visas or delays at border controls. If not, then new deals will have to be struck with countries all over the world.
Problematically, uncertainty has also had an adverse effect on the exchange rate of the pound, with the pound slumping to a 30-year low against the dollar. While this is great news for UK exporters and our own tourism industry, it means that sending employees overseas has become much dearer. Businesses will certainly have to think much more carefully and prioritise certain business trips above others. For those who have employees currently abroad, they may want to encourage them to use Dynamic Currency Conversion when using their credit or debit cards abroad to lock-in today’s rates before the pound loses any more value.
Eventually, the mists of uncertainty will clear as the new Prime Minister Theresa May begins to put together a post-referendum consensus. At this point, businesses will be able to decide how they will manage business travel in the future. In the meantime, businesses need to be flexible and make difficult decisions about how vital each business trip is. Business travel is too important to stop altogether, but in uncertain and unprecedented times, businesses must rethink everything they do and everything they previously took for granted.