Should we fly? Or surf?
Prior to 2001, business travel spending was on the rise. It seemed as if everyone was jet setting off to meet a client, or attend some conference or another. Since the attacks on September 11th, things have changed. While it is true that business travel, and travel in general, has increased from the decimated levels we saw in the fourth quarter of 2001, they are still nowhere near where they were prior to that time. The reason for this seemingly slow recovery is that there actually has been no "recovery" at all.
The travel industry, in general, has all but recovered from the after effects of September 11th. What the business travel industry has not recovered from, however, is the Internet.
More and more companies are looking to the Internet to handle situations that previously required someone to fly to a destination. Today, there is no need to get on a plane to conduct training seminars in Paris or to give a presentation to headquarters in Hong Kong. There are ways to do all of these things from the comfort of your home or office-with your computer.
Goodbye flying; Hello streaming media
According to a survey conducted by the Business Travel Coalition, 73% of the companies surveyed said they had increased the use of video conferencing, Webinars, and webcasting in 2004. With technology becoming increasingly more reliable and more closely simulating human interactions, the need for travel outside your office, let alone your state or country, is becoming unnecessary.
Additionally, the economic conditions and the prices of seats on major airlines do nothing but push businesses toward using the Internet and related technologies. Now companies are using streaming videos, audio clips, and more sophisticated services like those of WebEx's conferencing technology to communication with colleagues and clients.
So will business travel eventually cease altogether? The answer is: Probably not.
There are those that are convinced that nothing can replace a handshake or the traditional face-to-face meet and greets. Jack Burke, president of Sound Marketing, is a vocal proponent of keeping face-to-face meetings an essential part of business. "A lot of companies are looking at videoconferencing and saying, 'Wow, we never have to put anybody on a plane again,'" Burke said. "In a word, bull." He continued, "Videoconferencing does have the ability to enhance the level of communications. However it cannot replace the level of human touch in that relationship."
The human touch
The telephone didn't replace meetings, and neither did email. Proponents of video- and audio conferencing believe they will substitute for some, but not all in-person interaction. "Each piece is integral to the entire picture," Burke said. "Remove the face-to-face meetings and you don't have a whole anymore."
It is true that technology offers numerous advantages to the work force, but it can have negative affects if used without limit. Decreased face-to-face peer interaction has been shown to diminish worker productivity drastically. Removed from the educational atmosphere of conferences and trade shows, employees can become listless and lacking in motivation. Burke believes one of the key factors in keeping employees productive is keeping them motivated. "When they are removed from the interaction with their peers, the excitement and educational frenzy that occurs within the conference setting, you're taking away one of the main motivation tools of the trade," he said.
Many agree that face-to-face meetings are a necessary component of successful business relationships. "The higher up you go, the more the need for the human relationship, because the human relationship is what brings the uniqueness of the deal to the table," said Burke. "It's the value that the salespeople bring to their clients which makes the client willing to choose them over another of the same cost."
Therefore, flying isn't the only option anymore. Companies will likely use a combination of new technologies and face-to-face meetings now and in the future. Business travel is not gone for good, but it now has some tight competition.