Op Ed: Scott Gillespie On The Folly Of Blanket Bans On Internal Corporate Travel

Industry thinker Scott Gillespie of tClara is focused on determining which trips are and aren’t worthwhile. He advocates using a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer to cut away unjustified travel, and avoiding the trap of greenlighting trips only when employees go see customers.


Nobody knows what travel budgets should be in 2021, but we do know they will be much smaller than 2019’s. So who is going to get to travel — and why? It’s that last part, the “why” of a trip, that makes for a stupidly easy (not to be confused with smart or good) rule of thumb for budget-constrained senior executives.

“Thumbs up for external, customer-facing trips; thumbs down on pretty much all internal travel.” I can’t count how many companies have this lazy mentality, but it’s a lot.

“No internal travel. Done and dusted. Next problem, please.”

Not so fast.

This simple-minded policy assumes all external trips have higher expected value, and all internal trips have lower expected value. Let that sink in.

This would mean there is not enough value for any of us to justify traveling to:

  • Sell our managers on valuable ideas
  • Convince our executives to make key decisions
  • Collaborate with our co-workers on important projects
  • Build trust, relationships and culture with our colleagues
  • Amplify our creativity, innovation and problem-solving skills

If senior management really believes there is not enough value to justify travel for these types of internal meetings, then why do they spend money on office space? Isn’t the main function of office space to enable face-to-face work? Saying we can’t justify traveling for internal meetings is one step away from saying we can’t justify meeting in person.

Industry veteran Scott Gillespie of tClara

Side note: Tons of internal meetings are a waste of time largely because they are “free.” Meetings that have costs are more likely to be designed and executed to produce value, say I.

It must be obvious that some (not all!) internal meetings drive great value and justify the time and costs of bringing people together, and that without them, companies degrade their ability to compete.

To those senior executives making decisions about how travel budgets should be spent, listen up.

You know that plenty of internal meetings create tons of value. You know that plenty of meetings are far more successful when conducted in person. Do not throw away the value of traveling to internal meetings.

Deal with your smaller travel budgets by approving those internal trips that are more justified than others. Weed out all the lower-value trips, be they internal or external. Focus on the trip’s expected value, not whether a customer will be there.

When you’ve got that figured out, then wake up to this looming problem: Companies have no direct indicators of when they are not meeting in person enough.

You’ll need to look for flashing red indicators such as:

  • A decay in trust among managers
  • An increased desire to work more days in the office
  • Higher turnover and longer fill times for open positions
  • Lower scores on employee engagement and corporate culture
  • More project delays and fewer and less impressive innovations

You’ll reduce these risks by bringing the right people together in person. Demand these meetings be designed purposefully and led skillfully. Look to experts in the field of meeting science if you need help. 

High-quality, internal meetings held in person are essential to most every business.

Justified trips to these meetings will always be a key enabler of corporate success.


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Author: Scott Gillespie

Scott Gillespie often breaks new ground — and a bit of glass — in the corporate travel industry. He is a leading authority on travel procurement, travel friction and the total cost of travel. As managing director of tClara, Scott is developing the next generation of benchmarking for airfares and traveler friction. He is the author of a U.S. patent and has been named one of Business Travel News’ Top 25 Executives and a thought leader by Buying Business Travel. Scott writes the popular blog Gillespie’s Guide to Travel+Procurement, and speaks at travel industry conferences around the world. Scott holds an MBA from the University of Chicago. He and his family reside near Cleveland. Connect with Scott on LinkedIn.
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