After more than a year of no travel many of us have been wondering when we might be able to go on holiday again and will be hoping that we will be able to get away at some point this year. But what about business travel, when is this likely to be a regular occurrence again and do we even want it or need it to be?
The pandemic has forced us to adapt and to utilise technology to communicate, 16 months ago many of us had never heard of Zoom never mind used it and now most people are using it regularly for work and to communicate with friends and family. The enormous shift to working from home has resulted in growing acceptance of conducting conversations and meetings using virtual communication tools. Whilst zoom, teams or other video conferencing facilities can replicate much of an in person conversation many people feel there is nothing like meeting someone in person. Even so will people rush to jump on a plane when they can communicate quite effectively virtually? An in person meeting may be better than a virtual meeting, but is it really necessary?
Potential health risks are likely to be a big consideration for many people as we start to learn to live with Covid, the prospect of being tightly packed into an aircraft cabin alongside 150 or so other people is one that will not appeal to everybody when business travel resumes.
What does and doesn’t warrant a business trip many also be challenged by individuals and businesses with a real focus on the purpose and necessity for travel. It is likely that people will travel for matters that are business critical and cannot be achieved through the use of technology. Travel for internal purposes may often be replaced by virtual meetings and collaboration, and when people do travel they may be expected to combine several meetings/events into one trip.
It is also anticipated that the cost of travel will increase with better cleaning and safety protocols potentially contributing to the increase particularly if this means that aircraft have to spend more time on the ground between flights. This is likely to lead firms to further question the necessity and value of the proposed business trip. Some economists are predicting a global recession which will probably result in travel budgets being tightened for some time to come. Even without a recession smaller corporate travel budgets could be a reality for some sectors as the pandemic has shown that we can do meetings virtually.
Environmental concerns are yet another reason to stay grounded, if you do a meeting virtually you not only save time on travel but there are no carbon emissions. Sustainability is an issue that is rising on executive and government agendas and again this is likely to make people consider whether a trip is really necessary or not.
Many people have a love hate relationship with business travel, enjoying meeting new and existing contacts and experiencing different places, but don’t miss trapsing through airports, the exhaustion of business travel or juggling travel and family life.
Whilst virtual communication tools will never fully replace travel and meeting people in person, they will certainly have an impact and many business are likely to decide to make fewer but more important trips at least in the short term.