According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), business travel is a must for a healthy global economy. Among the reasons, WTTC says, is that business travel has accounted for one-third of the growth in global trade over the past decade; it has improved global productivity ten times over; and it has created millions of jobs worldwide.
But WTTC acknowledges that as the world economy gradually digs out of global recession, companies are cautious in their travel budgeting. With better and easy-to-access virtual meeting technology, business and government travel policies are being re-thought within the context of financial and environmental concerns.
As the world shrinks, colleagues, customers and employees are more and more likely to be located in far-flung locations. Because the digital revolution and constant connectivity have made this all possible, many have assumed that a huge percentage of business travel would be replaced with virtual meetings and conferences, saving untold amounts of time, money and human wear and tear. Others, somewhat surprisingly, estimate that as little as 5-10 percent of business travel is migrating to some form of virtual interaction.
So what’s the reality? Even if you’re a small business with little need for a travel budget now, chances are pretty good that at some point you may be tapping into markets—or skill sets—on the other side of the world. Do you invest resources—time, money and human capital—to meet in person or rely on technology for virtual meetings?
Like a paperless society, it looks like a world without in-person meetings isn’t likely to exist anytime soon. But communication specialists and social scientists say it’s knowing when to meet face-to-face and when to stay virtual that’s really the key. They stress that virtual meetings are most effective for conveying information. A great tip: Try to send the information, like a PowerPoint presentation, ahead of time, because everyone learns and absorbs information differently.
On the other hand, face-to-face meetings are invaluable for building relationships, which involves all sorts of non-verbal cues that virtual technology just can’t deliver. Facial expressions and body language play important roles in motivating, building commitment and developing personal ties.
Taking this notion to an interesting level, Al Jury, Ph.D., writes on his virtual teams blog that there is even a ‘golden ratio’ of virtual meetings to those held face-to-face. Key variables that determine this ratio, he says, are the type of work being done and the types of people on the team.
Face-to-face meetings—and traveling to get there—can mean the difference between revenue generated, or lost, as discussed in a recent special wsj.com section. The case is made that in-person meetings are therefore still critical; however, more and more, companies are quantifying the returns on their travel-and-expenses investment in these meetings.
In the meantime, business travelers alike aren’t likely to find that travel is getting any less stressful. A study released late last year by KRC Research on behalf of Concur, a provider of travel and expense management services, ranked the 16 most stressful U.S. airports, based on interviews with 1,500 business travelers. The survey cited the availability of electrical outlets and Wi-Fi as important factors among road warriors, but also listed stress factors including distance between gates and terminals; long lines; confusing signage; poor service; and too-few or too-crowded bathrooms.
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net