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Will business travel reduce now we’re used to Zoom?

Diane Hall


Business Man working on a zoom call

There’s no denying that Zoom and similar video conferencing programs proved lifesavers during the pandemic. When travel wasn’t encouraged/allowed, and in-person meetings were banned, to be able to communicate via a screen—whilst not necessarily a better option—threw many businesses a lifeline. Meetings could still occur, collaborations could still power through, and information could still be passed from one to many.

Now that business travel can happily go ahead, will companies still shoulder the time and cost of their staff flying to other countries for business purposes, or insisting on an in-person one-to-one if it means both parties travelling for miles?

During 2020 the global revenue from business travel dropped 52% (I’d have actually expected this to be more). Though vaccinations should make travelling safe to most countries, it’s still not without risk.

Two business people meeting up in person

Two business people meeting up in person

Pandemic or not, there will be some executives that believe big business just has to be done in person, that a screen cannot properly project a killer business instinct or emphasise a closing patter well enough.

There will also be businesspeople biding their time, waiting for the Covid situation to settle further before resuming their business travel plans. After all, with all the extra rules and regulations, the testing and paperwork needed, it’s not exactly enjoyable to travel by plane at the moment. For many executives, there’s also few things to travel to, given that large-scale events and seminars aren’t quite back yet.

Lastly, there will definitely be a pool of business owners and CEOs who think any awkwardness or limitations video conferencing brings are far outweighed by the cost savings this solution represents. It’s not just the expense of plane/train tickets or fuel, but the time such trips carve out of a busy executive’s workload. Maybe they’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of the business travel they previously authorised was unnecessary.

Joseph Nocera speaking at the Berkman Center about the Microsoft antitrust trial

Joseph Nocera speaking at the Berkman Center about the Microsoft antitrust trial

Joe Nocera, writing for Bloomsberg, says, ‘Vacationers are important to the airlines, but they’re not nearly as important as business travellers, who often buy tickets at the last moment and are far less price-sensitive because their companies are picking up the tab. According to travel software firm Trondent Development Corp., business travellers account for 12% of the passenger base but 75% of airline profits. A lot of those profits are never coming back. Salespeople might need to travel to close a deal, but not for routine catch-ups with clients. Consultants can offer their advice from their home office. Internal business meetings really don’t require the senior vice president of marketing to fly in from Chicago or San Francisco or wherever. The internet, through Netflix and other streaming services, disrupted the television industry, causing profits to tumble. Facebook and Google decimated the newspaper industry. And now, thanks to Zoom and the pandemic, the airlines are going to discover what it’s like to be disrupted.’

There will always be reasons to have to travel in person, such as viewing business properties or companies to buy—it’s difficult to ascertain all you need to know in such circumstances via a set number of pixels on a screen.

A recent survey asked business travellers if they were looking forward to flying out to various destinations again. Two-thirds were reportedly ‘very willing’ to get back out into the ether. However, when asked why they were so keen to start travelling for business again, their responses were all to do with personal pleasure than business need, with respondents citing a desire to see the world, a chance to escape their four walls, and the luxury of jet-setting as the things they’ve sorely missed. Let’s hope their bosses still see the merit in their foreign adventures…

I agree with Nocera, in that business travel may never return to what it once was. Our reliance on Zoom may not have come about, had it not been for coronavirus, but it’s difficult to put the genie back in the bottle once it’s out.

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