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A jittery industry begins to question if business travel will rebound after coronavirus

And so, an industry ponders, what is on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis?

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The Boston-area consumer electronics company that Matt Nichols works for “used to fill up five to ten seats per week” on Cathay Pacific Airways’ non-stop flight to Hong Kong in business class and premium economy. His employer in late-January put a stop to non-essential travel because of the COVID-19 outbreak in China.

A little over a month later, travel that was once considered essential for running the company’s manufacturing doesn’t quite look that way anymore. “After COVID-19 I dare say we have come damn close to learning how to do it with much reduced travel,” said Nichols.

Related: Once scarce, coronavirus creates a glut of unneeded airliners

Similar bans on travel from corporations, non-profit organizations, academic institutions and governments have been put into effect. Travel cancellations have skyrocketed as conferences and events are postponed or curtailed. It’s not just business travel. One U.S. airline network planner said bookings to leisure travel markets like those in Florida are off more than 20% and another person briefed on the fallout at another U.S. carrier said there was a 35% decline in bookings from two weeks prior. Another transatlantic carrier said bookings outside of 14 days in advance had collapsed by some 80%.

Life, and flying to get there, is on hold.

But for the first time since the start of this global health crisis, industry leaders are quietly asking What if business traffic doesn’t come back? (To the same levels)

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