Business travellers are raising concerns about the reliance on screen-based interaction as their primary meeting method. Now more than ever, they are also looking for control, ease and simplicity, according to a recent survey of more than 700 business travellers worldwide during Jul-2021 by travel management company BCD Travel.
While virtual meetings and remote work are here to stay, business travel and face-to-face meetings remain extremely important, according to respondents to the survey. Three in four (76%) said business travel helps them perform their work efficiently. In a post-pandemic travel environment, three in five (60%) would prefer to return to pre-pandemic levels of business travel, while around a quarter (26%) prefer to travel less: just one in ten (9%) were eager to travel more.
When it comes to future corporate travel policies in a post-pandemic environment, survey the survey respondents indicate that they care mostly about being able to decide for themselves whether to travel (64%). In addition, they desire a more simplified trip approval process (58%) and the prioritising of direct flights (53%) rather than connecting via another location.
For remote versus face-to-face meetings, three in four (74%) rate in-person client meetings as the most important reason for business travel, followed by team building, sales meetings and meetings with partners or suppliers. The main travel concerns remain consistent with travellers mainly worried about quarantine on arrival, followed by concerns over sudden lockdowns and rapidly changing travel regulations.
While the survey findings show that the majority of business travellers want to get out and about again, they understand that remote work and meetings are here to stay, even if they are identified as clearly lacking when it comes to relationship building.
More than two-thirds of respondents to the BCD Travel survey said the main weaknesses of virtual meetings were the lack of human contact (66%), while more than half said they offered limited interaction (58%), were easily distracted (54%) or were unsuitable for some meeting types (51%). Approaching half (49%) also acknowledged “Zoom fatigue” or technology issues.
The research shows that meeting face-to-face not only remains “a critical component” to achieving company goals, it’s also “essential to satisfying businesses’ need for efficiency and human interaction,” says Mike Janssen, global chief operating officer and chief commercial officer at BCD Travel.
With vaccinations programmes advancing, air capacity and hotel accommodation increasing and restrictions slowly being reduced, an increasing number of business travellers are now ready – many eager and some a little tentative – to resume face-to-face meetings. Businesses are beginning to open the door to travel, but more and more research is now indicating a need to better understand their employees’ individual needs when it come to business travel.
This will see some continuation of working remotely – BCD Travel’s surveys shows 57% of respondents continue to work remotely versus 24% before the pandemic. Looking ahead at the future workplace, approaching three-quarters (71%) of business travellers interviewed by BCD Travel showed a preference for a hybrid mix of remote and office work. One in five said they favoured full-time remote work and just 6% gave a preference to full-time office work.
There will also be an increasing blending of business and leisure travel in the future and employers will certainly have to accept the practice and the benefit it offers. In fact, it is becoming increasingly accepted that ‘bleisure’ could become standard within the new normal travel programme – in the short-term, at least!
There is a clear appetite from business travellers to incorporate some leisure time within their future travel itineraries. When asked about bleisure, around half of those surveyed by BCD Travel said they might extend a business trip for a few leisure days (49%), while more than third said they would like to travel for work accompanied by a partner or friend (38%) or extend their stay and continue remote working at the destination (33%). A similar number also consider combining a business trip with a vacation of 1-2 weeks (32%).
There is already evidence of this blending in action. VistaJet, the private jet operator, said recently the old model of business people wanting rapid return flights between financial centres is being replaced by a more peripatetic blend of work and leisure.
“Executives have been asked by their companies to reduce travel, on top of the [pandemic-related] restrictions, so this has meant they take longer stays in destinations,” said Matteo Atti, its group EVP of marketing at the Financial Times Business of Luxury conference in May-2021. “They place many more meetings in one trip and they often end up mixing work and private time. Working from everywhere is the trend,” he added.