Covid-19 has cratered the business travel industry. It has
created deep anxieties that go to the heart of traveling. It is a giant foe,
one that we’re all figuring out how to fight. Great progress has been made by travel
suppliers on the health and hygiene front. Travel management companies and
technology firms are providing health-related apps; travel managers are
adapting travel policies and educating travelers about risks and precautions; thoughtful
standards and guidelines are being set.
All good, important and very necessary work. In time, the
virus will be defeated and people will be willing to travel again. But this
will not be nearly enough.
More Enduring Threat
The business travel industry now faces a much larger
post-Covid threat. It is the ROI test: Will this trip be worth the cost and
The risks of traveling are perceived as very high, and the
acceptance of travel’s substitute, the Zoom meeting, is incredibly broad. The Covid
risks will come down, but the cost of a Zoom meeting will remain very cheap.
This low-cost, well-accepted travel substitute makes it hard to justify any
number of business trips.
Fail this ROI test too many times, and our industry dies.
Unfortunately, the return on travel’s investment can’t be
calculated, not with clarity and consensus, and not at scale. Every potential
trip’s ROI is subjective. This is a problem not for the corporate travel
manager, and not for the procurement buyer. We have to leave those subjective
ROI assessments to the only stakeholder that matters—the travel budget owner,
the person who controls this industry’s lifeblood.
Many companies are struggling with the question of when and at
what pace they should return to traveling. These firms recognize the need to
balance traveler health and safety with the advantages of conducting business
in person. Right now, Covid risks are dominating the travel budget owner’s
Travel budget owners need good answers to these questions:
- Do we have a good handle on this trip’s goals,
costs and risks?
- Do our travelers and their hosts welcome this
- Will meeting in person improve our chances of
It’s that last question that we must now rally around.
A Call to Action
Travel suppliers, especially the network airlines, need to
showcase the many benefits of making connections in person. Not just a new
connection made over a cup of coffee. The types of connections that generate
significant value, connections that link ideas to innovation; presentations to
sales; leadership to motivation; diversity to inclusion, training to new skills.
Connections that are made with sparks that can come only from the conducive
atmosphere of meeting safely together in person.
This is business travel’s main competitive advantage over
the virtual meeting. Clearly, the costs and risks associated with Covid-19 must
be reduced. But our industry’s size, health and future ultimately depend on
growing this one value proposition, the advantage of meeting safely in person.
Marketing Is Key
Travel suppliers must now build a campaign around the
benefits of meeting safely in person. This campaign needs to run in parallel
with the one that is raising traveler confidence and reducing Covid anxiety.
This campaign must continue well past Covid’s defeat.
What might this marketing campaign look like? For starters,
it must be aimed at three key stakeholders:
1) the travel budget owners, those mid- and senior-level executives who
make the decisions about which trips get taken; 2) the road warriors, for whom
travel is essential to their success; and 3) the hosts, those who need to
welcome travelers into their facilities.
Make the campaign aspirational and inspirational—paint a
picture of the powerful insights and emotions achieved from meetings done in
person. Make it about winning, teamwork and competitive advantage. Think
Gatorade and Nike commercials, and riff from there.
The business travel industry is working hard to reduce the
risks of traveling. We must now also showcase our singular competitive
advantage—the power and benefits of creating valuable connections. Business
travel can no longer be about travel. It must now be about business and the
subjective yet very real ROI that comes from meetings done in person.