Timely, for me, sadly – a lot of key points in here from Kevin J. Delaney as the world continues to open back up:
There’s broad consensus that how often we fly for work and what we travel for will shift significantly post-pandemic. Who is traveling may be different as well. That, in turn, will prompt changes in what the travel industry provides to business people, a source of nearly a third of its revenue before the pandemic. A year and a half of forgoing virtually all travel and doing business by video conference has led many business people to conclude that a lot of their previous travel wasn’t worth the time and toll on their bodies and mental state, on their families and the environment. That’s even before considering the role that travel played in transmitting the virus across continents. There’s a popular meme: “This meeting could have been an email.” Those of us who have traveled long distances for a single work meeting know that we could often just as easily say, “This business trip could have been a Zoom call.”
It’s hard to overstate how big of changes even mild shifts here will create. Because it’s so many different industries, from air travel, to hotels, to restaurants, to everything in between. And it’s not just lost business, necessarily, but changed business, as more workers travel to meet up with teammates, etc. At the same time…
Early indications suggest that most businesses will be reluctant to dramatically trim the estimated two-thirds of business travel that involves sales calls and client visits, conferences and professional services like consulting. Executives remain wary of losing out to a rival who actually shows up in person, or seeing an important contract go away because of poor virtual communications. Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said in May that clients told him his bank lost business when “bankers from the other guys visited, and ours didn’t.” Scott Kirby, chief executive of United, earlier this year predicted “full recovery in business demand because business travel is about relationships.” Speaking with investors via a conference call, he added, “You cannot build human relationships through a medium like this.”
While a lot of business travel is forever changed by this, there will be this new segment (which has always been a segment, but is more pronounced now) that’s essentially ‘performative travel’. That is, showing your commitment to a deal or partnership by putting in the literal legwork to show up in person for a meeting. We’re seeing this already, clearly.