Düsseldorf The domestic German travel chaos, fueled by regional bans on accommodation and opaque quarantine regulations, at least one German DAX group knows how to use: Volkswagen at the Wolfsburg headquarters – for hidden self-promotion. Employees whose places of residence had more than 100 corona infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the past seven days, VW decided, are no longer allowed to enter their own plants. Unless: you come by car.
Other large corporations have also tightened their bans since the rapid increase in corona cases. Employees of the wholesale group Metro are only allowed to leave their car in such polluted cities and districts if the vehicle is on a factory site of their own company. Trips to the bakery or kiosk are taboo – and are checked by the tachograph.
The designation of more than 30 German cities and districts as corona risk areas has put the travel and security officers in German companies on alert. A survey conducted by the VDR business travel association among more than 200 companies found that 18.2 percent of companies allow business trips within Germany without restrictions. In mid-August it was 33.3 percent. The domestic bans on accommodation hardly affect business travelers.
Some employers even intervene in the private lives of their employees. At the rail and truck supplier Knorr-Bremse, areas that the Robert Koch Institute has declared to be risky are no longer allowed to be visited, even in leisure time.
What was true for Corona hotspots on the Mediterranean before the summer vacation now also applies to German metropolises such as Berlin, Stuttgart or Essen. Anyone who travels there privately and then goes into quarantine must take unpaid leave as long as they cannot work from home. Knorr-Bremse also canceled all Christmas parties.
At Telekom in Bonn, the meetings could soon be much smaller. Last week, the Dax group limited it to a number of participants of 25. If the seven-day incidence number of 50 infected people per 100,000 population is exceeded in a region, the group will only allow up to ten people. The stricter rules could soon also apply at the company headquarters in Bonn: In the city, the incidence number on Tuesday was 47.27.
In addition, most travel agencies are now taking a closer look. 76.6 percent of the VDR respondents made their permit for business trips dependent on the risk of infection in the respective German target regions – after only 49.4 percent two months ago.
Switching to the car within Germany
One of the first victims of increased alertness is the Munich real estate conference at Expo Real. After Messe München had confirmed on Friday that the two-day industry meeting would start on October 14th, the cancellation followed on Monday evening. Shortly before, the Robert Koch Institute had declared Munich a risk area, whereupon speakers and booked participants announced that they would not.
The classification of Stuttgart as a Corona hotspot also hit the start-up competition Weconomy on Tuesday, in which the Handelsblatt is a cooperation partner. This Friday, top managers from BASF, Daimler, Bosch and B. Braun were supposed to meet young founders there. “The increasing numbers of infections require all of us to be responsible,” said BASF board member Michael Heinz, which is why the event was moved to the Internet.
It is probably thanks to the steep increase in corona infections that companies have become more pessimistic about a rapid recovery. At the end of July, 16.3 percent of travel managers believed that there would be an improvement at the turn of the year, but this is now only 9.7 percent. 19.4 percent are even of the opinion that the restrictions will extend beyond the first quarter of 2021.
The travel service providers score extremely differently in terms of how efficiently they take action against the risk of corona infection. For its own hygiene concept, Deutsche Bahn received a rating of “inadequate” from 58.9 percent of the travel managers – with values that have steadily deteriorated since the end of July. The airlines, on the other hand, received this judgment from only eleven percent, hotels from just 5.5.
In contrast, there was great agreement in the VDR survey in a different assessment. 76 percent ticked the answer: “Yes, we will travel more often by car within Germany.”
The caution in German companies is likely to increase again in the coming days. Because one day after the VDR survey was published, the federal and state governments decided on October 7th that travelers may only be accommodated if they presented a negative coronavirus test as soon as they come from Sars-Cov-2 regions of the warning level. All federal states followed this agreement – except for four.
“The feeling of security is rather irrational”
In the jumble of reports it was lost that the ban on accommodation only applies to tourists in an emergency, but not to business travelers. In practice, however, it will equally affect companies, believes Markus Orth, head of the business travel agency chain Lufthansa City Center (LCC). “The perception is the same for entrepreneurs as for tourists,” the Frankfurt agency boss knows. “The feeling of security is currently rather irrational.”
Orth expects things to get worse soon. “If returnees have to be in quarantine for five days in order to then complete a corona test, that will in fact be equivalent to a new lockdown,” the LCC boss is certain. This regulation, which has been heavily criticized by the industry, was originally supposed to come into force at the beginning of October. However, because the test infrastructure required for this is still lacking, a decision on the start will only be made in the coming days.
The renewed travel restrictions are having a particularly dramatic impact on hotels and restaurants, which complained of a loss in sales of 35 billion euros in the first half of 2020 as a result of the spring lockdown. According to the German Tourism Association (DTV), after the summer season, which started only slowly, many had placed their hopes on the autumn vacation.
“For many hosts, the sales of the two or three weeks in autumn before the start of the already problematic winter season this year mean the difference between continued existence and insolvency,” warns association president Reinhard Meyer.
Things could get tight for many business travel agencies too. Lufthansa City Center alone, the largest German provider, is expecting a drop in sales of 80 percent this year. For businesses in need, the franchise organization has now developed a business model that is intended to massively reduce running costs. “We are starting a mobile sales”, LCC boss Orth revealed on Monday. Instead of an expensive shop, the living room sofa and a computer should be enough for advice in the future.
Daimler subsidiary Blacklane benefits as a chauffeur service
At least one industry hopes to benefit from the travel restrictions in the end: the providers of business travel services. The Blacklane chauffeur service, for example, which has hitherto been booked primarily for airport shuttle rides, is increasingly promoting “intercity rides” – as an alternative to the train.
“We see a clear trend that people want to be on the move in protected vehicles,” says Blacklane founder Jens Wohltorf, “and therefore book a limousine for several hours.”
In April, according to Wohltorf, the Daimler shareholding Blacklane only made two percent of pre-crisis sales, but has now returned to a third to half. It would look even better without the weak US market. In 2019, the travel agent achieved a turnover of over 100 million euros, primarily with business customers.
Cooperation: Stefan Menzel, Florian Kolf, Markus Fasse, Christoph Kapalschinski, Anis Micijevic, Larissa Holzki
More: These corona rules for business travelers apply in the individual federal states.