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Corporate Travel Not Rushing Back

Published on 18 March 2021 at 17:39

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An interesting article in Harvard Business Review (3/18/21) entitled The State of Globalization in 2021 by Phillip Bastiani. Particularly the piece on corporate travel - a quirky topic of and not one to set the world on fire. The author notes that business trips made up just 13% of international travel before the pandemic, but they do clearly play key roles in facilitating trade, investment, and the management of global corporations. Bastiani goes to note that travel companies and ancillary support services are expected to recover in the COVID world well before travel for "internal company meetings and participation in conferences and trade shows."

In my web section entitled "A Changing Landscape" I note businesses both large and small face a cloudy future post COVID and most certainly as it applies to external travel that's necessary to conduct business whether it be in Munich, Madrid or Santiago. Granted, like resourceful creatures that we are, we have made do because reality is hard to avoid. Many companies have had to belt-tighten and quite often that means no travel outside the United States and very limited travel internally. Many of you who have faced corporate cutbacks or retrenchments are familiar with this exercise. .What we are seeing is many SME’s adopting "Virtual” cross-border marketing to try and fill the non-travel gap but is it enough? One survey found that at the end of 2019, the most widespread challenge for U.S. midsize companies was maintaining customer relations. Travel cutbacks was a knife stab in the back.  

Global consulting firm McKinsey Co. in an earlier look at this issue, noted that corporate travel in 2021 would be half as less as travel in 2019 and going forward, and further, they did not see corporate travel levels ever exceeding levels of 2019. If McKinsey is correct, those are some very sobering trends. Of course, we recognize the structural shifts that have taken place in corporate America as a result of COVID. However, the bothersome question is will "virtual cross-border" marketing become the rule rather than the exception? It's a troubling question. Author Bastiani (HBR) notes that "managers in multinational corporations..."(I would include SMEs) "..should pay special attention over the medium-term to the effects of travel restrictions on internal team functions and learning and innovation." I would second his words of caution that "global teams are more vulnerable than domestic teams to misunderstandings and breakdowns of trust, especially after long periods without in-person contact." So many cultures need that "face-to-face" connection with a customer and certainly on a business deal. A Teams or Zoom meeting will not and cannot replace that. This is an issue that is worth a deeper look going forward. 

#travel #business #covid #businesstravel #investment #management #trade


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