With vaccine rollout ahead! of! schedule! it looks like we are inching closer to the return of normalcy. (Though, I’d argue, being trapped in my apartment and watching the 90 Day Fiancé universe with my dog feels normal.) Regardless, there is real talk of the return of movie theaters, indoor dining, concerts, vacations, and… business travel.
In North America, business travel declined by 79% from April to December 2020. And a recent U.S. census survey found that only 26% of small businesses will pursue any travel in the next six months. With companies like Amazon saving $1 billion in travel expenses last year, it makes sense to continue pursuing business over Zoom.
However, there are reasons to travel. A recent Harvard study looked at what would happen if business travel stopped completely. The study identified that decreased business travel could impact national economic progress and growth. As the number of people who have received the vaccine increases and conversations progress about how vaccine passports can become a part of the roadmap to reopen international travel, this is beginning to look more of a reality than a hope.
Here are three business travel changes we predict for the rest of the year:
1) New (sunnier) destinations
Business travel usually means exchanging one stuffy corporate setting for another in a new city. Maybe you got to trade in your view of New Jersey for Oakland! However, it’s going to take a lot more to entice employees out of their home offices post-pandemic. Evan Konwiser, the executive vice president of product and strategy for American Express Global Business Travel, predicts a re-envisioning of business travel that prioritizes experiential meetings—in-person bonding opportunities for scattered remote workers and trips that feel more like work perks than obligations.
2) Focus on sustainability
Before the pandemic, travelers were increasingly voicing their concerns about sustainability as we realized the devastating result of business travel’s environmental impact. COVID-19 allowed companies to step back and review their existing travel policies. It’s time for companies to be more transparent with employees about their carbon footprint, including ways employees can help lower it. This may mean train travel instead of flying or a conference call over an in-person meeting.
3) Travel as an extension of company culture
A Deloitte survey taken in January found that 75% of polled Fortune 500 CEOs were considering downsizing their offices. Department, or even company-wide, team-building trips could become the 2021 version of “cool office with perks.” As more employees remain steadfast in their desire to work from home, Taco Tuesday and cold brew on tap can’t compete with no commute and sweatpant-life. Allowing colleagues to travel somewhere fun to bond over everything from budget meetings to scavenger hunts maintains the we’re-all-in-this-together feeling while still allowing employees to work from anywhere.
And what about trade shows?
According to the Events Industry Council, conferences and industry events generated more than $1 trillion in spending each year on meeting venues, catering, hotels, and travel. Three cities took huge hits:
- Orlando: The major conference hub generates $3 billion of economic activity in a typical year through its convention center.
- Barcelona: The city normally draws 12% of economic activity and 9% of employment from tourism and business travel.
- Las Vegas: Big events like the CES electronics show usually bring hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. This January, CES was held online, and the city’s visitor traffic was down by 64% from a year earlier.
Reviving the trade show and conference industry will require compromise. Attendees, speakers, and staff should undergo multiple rounds of testing throughout their travel journey and we might even see some shows require vaccination documentation later in the year.
Also, anticipate a hybrid in-person/digital model where speakers and guests can dial in remotely while others attend IRL. This setup allows event producers to create multiple “mini” conferences scattered across the country, so attendees can drive or hop on a train instead of flying across the country.