November 30, 2022

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Just Do Travel

Remote Workers Prompt Adventure Tour Operators to Switch Up Itineraries

From the peak of Mount Everest to Costa Rica’s pristine beaches, the remote work trend is filtering down to adventure tour operators and impacting how they plan itineraries, negotiate with suppliers and even pick the destinations they travel to.

For most white-collar workers a two-month trip across Latin America would have been off-limits before the pandemic, but shuttered offices coupled with remote working has given them a newfound freedom to roam.

Furtenbach Adventures, G Adventures, and Intrepid are just three outfits welcoming the new trend as they start to see changes in the way guests want to travel. And even at the top end of the corporate ladder, CEOs, investment bankers and consultants are showing a thirst for adventure, taking advantage of the extra flexibility remote work offers them.

“A few years ago, CEOs were fine with having internet access at base camp, so they could send emails and make their calls, but now it’s not enough,” said Lukas Furtenbach, founder and owner of Furtenbach Adventures. “They need to be online even on the summit, maybe even have a Zoom call at the last camp at 8,000 meters. And that’s crazy, but it’s becoming normal.”

The Austrian family-run tour operator, which also has a U.S. branch called Infinity Expeditions, has seen an uptick in clients opting for a “hypoxia tent” in which they sleep for up to eight weeks at their home before traveling to their mountain of choice. This lowers the oxygen level in their blood so they arrive acclimatized and means busy executives can reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, in just three weeks.

“They want to have the same success as they do on Wall Street, and move that to the mountains,” Furtenbach added. “The problem with these people is that before there was never any time. They could never afford to take off eight or nine weeks, whatever the cost. Our idea was we had to find a way to make the expedition shorter, and that’s when we started these flash expeditions.”

Going Deeper

This demand for constant internet connectivity during an expedition is a common theme for G Adventures, but the  Canadian tour operator is also extending the duration of its itineraries.

Before Covid there was a push for shorter tours, according to founder Bruce Poon Tip, and two or three years ago it was offering eight or nine-day tours as people wanted do more in less time. The average duration increased to 16 days, but on the other side of Covid people want to immerse themselves for longer periods, he added.

“It’s an amazing thing for us, as we’ve always felt people should see a country more in depth, and it’s hard for us to deliver an intimate experience in a week,” Poon Tip told Skift. “Now they’re able to do it without taking holiday time. They’re working while they’re going and we’re seeing so much of that.”

G Adventures is also building more flexibility into schedules, and people are taking afternoons off to check their emails or opting to miss an excursion one day because they have to attend meetings. “It’s happening so much,
but they’re taking one of our trips and simultaneously working. It’s very interesting,” he added.

According to its own research, 19 percent of people said they planned to combine work and travel in Dec. 2020, but that figure almost doubled to 37 percent in its Dec. 2021 poll. It also found that 46 percent of 18-34-year-olds said they were currently able to work from anywhere.

In response to the data, G Adventures launched a new program called Roamies with Hostelworld last month to help travelers that need to work and travel at the same time, with hostels tending to offer good Wifi and spaces to work from.

“Connectivity is really important and that’s not something we considered before. Most hotels will have Wifi, but we didn’t check on it like we do now,” Poon Tip said. “It becomes a much more critical part of our buying process when we’re talking to hotels and accommodations.”

Rival Intrepid Travel is also reacting to new trends.

“Our tailor-made and private groups team has seen a noticeable increase in requests for longer trips, often a month or more, to destinations such as South America, South Africa or South East Asia,” said Zina Bencheikh, managing director, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “Now that remote working is so widely accepted, clients are able to combine travel with work much more easily,” she added.

The tour operator is also building in plenty of free time for work or meetings, as well as ensuring its accommodation has enough space to work comfortably in and has decent wifi connectivity. “The ability to work from anywhere has opened up opportunities for longer, slower and ultimately, more sustainable travel. With more companies going fully remote, I’d expect this will be a trend that’s here to stay,” Bencheikh said.

Destinations Take Note

As well as checking hotel Wifi more throughly, G Adventures is preferring to operate in countries that aren’t constantly opening and closing their borders. Poon tip calls out stellar performances from the likes of Peru, Greece, Croatia, Switzerland, Egypt and Morocco.

But it’s Costa Rica that has emerged as one of the most popular destinations. “They handled things, it seems, better than anyone else. As a tour operator, it’s given us confidence to invest in the region. We invested in Spain, for instance, and it closed, opened, closed, opened,” Poon Tip said. “We’re not in the business of investing in marketing if you get people on trips and then have to refund money.”

Omicron may have derailed many expedition and adventure holiday plans, with operators now delaying tours until the new variant has passed as the cancellations came flooding in, but later this year we could see huge numbers of remote workers hit the trail, with laptops in tow, for a summer workcation boom.

Sidenotes

The French president on Wednesday said he wanted to “piss off” the unvaccinated. Well, officially Emmanuel Macron said “j’ai très envie de les emmerder” in the interview with Le Parisien. Those comments exploded not just in France, but made headlines globally too.

He probably meant he wanted to make a point with the anti-vaxers, but whatever the context the sentiment may end up delaying the corporate travel industry recovery a little longer. His comments came as France’s parliament was voting on plans for a vaccine pass to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

On Thursday it voted it through, which it means the population will need to prove they are vaccinated to carry on with everyday life: restaurants, bars, cinemas, and potentially returning to the workplace.

Before, the French government allowed people to present a negative Covid-19 test for these types of things, but times are changing. Other countries, including Italy, have already made a booster mandatory for their vaccination pass, and Austria is reportedly considering making its health pass invalid if someone’s not had an injection in the past nine months. Meanwhile, some airlines are already only accepting passengers who’ve had a jab.

Back to offices, and Goldman Sachs recently said proof of a vaccine or booster would be required to return to offices from February. This of course raises huge questions about medical confidentiality at work. But business travel is already being held back by the fact many companies are delaying the date they return to offices. Once they do reopen, and there are no rules stipulating mandatory vaccinations, will companies permit employees to visit clients in this kind of environment?

And how many companies will keep remote work on the table, opting for a safer option to avoid being dragged into such a highly controversial debate.

Macron’s comments spread like wildfire, but working through the politics of mandatory booster jabs will drag on for months, giving already nervous employers another reason to keep corporate travel on ice.

10-Second Corporate Travel Catch-Up

Who and what Skift has covered over the past week: Airbnb, American Express Global Business Travel, Eve, Frankfurt Airport, Mondee, Sonder, Travelport, Wyndham, Yatra.

In Brief

Flight Centre Buys Out the Rest of Shep

Flight Centre Travel Group has fully acquired travel technology company Shep after last year’s initial investment in the firm. Shep offers a browser extension that helps companies manage and measure travel behaviour inside corporate booking environments, like Concur, as well as on consumer travel sites like Expedia and Airbnb. The platform will be integrated into its Flight Centre’s corporate travel division FCM, which is gearing up to fully deploy its “omni-channel platform” across 100 countries.

JetBlue Offers Sustainable Travel Tool to Business Customers 

JetBlue has launched a Sustainable Travel Partners program with customers including Biogen, Deloitte, ICF and Salesforce. The airline has a new a suite of platforms to help them reduce their business travel emissions and meet their own corporate sustainability targets, and it includes the offer of sustainable aviation fuel certificates.

Sustainable aviation fuel can emit up to 80 percent less CO2 over its lifecycle, JetBlue said, and it’s been flying regularly with a sustainable fuel mix out of San Francisco since July 2020 and Los Angeles since July 2021, but the certificates allow customers to help cover the cost premium of the fuel that currently exists. Personalized travel data and analysis for more accurate emissions reporting are also available, helping the companies make more sustainable travel decisions.

CWT Unveils Its New Travel-Themed Board of Directors   

Corporate travel agency CWT has revealed the line-up for its board of directors for parent company CWT Travel Holdings, Inc, marking the next phase in its rehabilitation. Jim Abrahamson, a former member of the board of directors at InterContinental Hotels Group,  has been named as board chair. He is joined by accountant Alan Bowers and Ellen Keszler, who is currently non-executive director on the boards of Sojern and Shep. Meanwhile, Tom O’Toole, former non-executive board director at Extended Stay America; Donna Wells, who previously held roles at American Express and Expedia; and Theresa Wise, former chief information officer and senior vice president of Delta Air Lines, have joined. The board also includes CWT CEO Michelle McKinney Frymire. 

The agency said the new board brings a “strong blend of travel, hospitality, technology, and commercial expertise.” The announcement follows its financial restructuring in November 2021