In his own way, Serko’s Tony D’Astolfo issues a call to action to get the industry out of the gutter.

The last time I stepped foot in a bowling alley was on March 12. It was pre-lockdown, pre-travel restrictions. My bowling league will start again in a couple of weeks, and I’ll be back in the lanes.  

My bowling prowess is well-known to many of my industry friends. They probably aren’t surprised to hear I’m excited to be back at it. Others might be thinking, “That’s nice, Tony, but why do I care?” Indulge me for a couple hundred words to explain.    

When I heard the league was restarting, I had no hesitation in going back. 

There are many things I know I should be concerned about. My two teammates contracted Covid-19 shortly before the lockdowns. One of them needed hospitalization and a ventilator. 

Bowlers aren’t typically the picture of health, either. I’m fairly certain most of the people in my league have at least one underlying condition, given how they relish $3 beers, $10 unlimited wings and sneaky smoke breaks between shots. 

We bowl at Whitestone Lanes. It was built in the 1960s, and it shows. The once-white asbestos ceiling tiles are a spicy-mustard brown, tinged from a bygone era when smoking indoors was still allowed. I mention this because air filtration is not a high priority now and clearly never has been.  

Still, in a couple of weeks, back to bowling I will go.

Bowling is different from traveling. On March 11, just one day before my last time at Whitestone, I took my last business trip, a flight home from LAX. To that point in 2020, I’d taken 20 flights and logged 57,395 miles (but who’s counting?). It was a fairly typical volume to that point, one I’ve maintained over the past 20 years of my career. Yet, unlike in bowling, I don’t have any notices welcoming me back to traveling.

Tony D’Astolfo, Serko senior vice president, North America

Instead, my work calendar is filled with Zoom and Teams meetings. Throw in an industry webinar or two (or 40, please make it stop), plus a few “virtual” events, and that’s a wrap on 2020. I’m impressed with these technologies, but I don’t believe they replicate the value of an in-person meeting or event.

I joked with a fellow travel industry friend last week that it’s come to the point where I dream about standing in a booth all day, speaking to people with coffee and liquor on their breath.

My bias is clear, but I’m guessing I’m not the only one out there suffering from Zoom fatigue. I want to get back to traveling like I’m getting back to bowling. But that’s proving more difficult. The hesitation is still there.

This is despite some positive news about the lower-than-expected risk of travel. A recent U.S. Department of Defense study found the air filtration on Boeing 767 and 777 aircraft was 15 times better than your home and five to six times better than an operating room. An IATA report similarly points to low infection risks in-flight so far during the pandemic.

A survey by Expert Flyer suggested that business travelers were eager to get back on planes. And the U.S. Transportation Security Administration just reported screening more than 1 million passengers in a single day for the first time since March.

Still, these studies aren’t enough for many to get back to traveling for business. Some will ask, “Is this science any good?” or, “Can you guarantee I’ll be safe?” or even, “Why should I listen to anything coming from a guy who likes to bowl?” Those are valid questions.

But I think it’s time to look at this differently. It will take more people to start traveling to get our industry on its feet again. I ask my business travel industry peers, who better to lead the way back to business travel than us?

I’m ready to do my part. Consider this an open offer to customers, prospects and partners: Let’s meet in person. I’ll come to your office or any place you feel comfortable. To industry associations looking for a speaker or in-person event attendees, I’m ready. I’ll be there.

When I get back out there, I will share my experience. While one man getting back on the road does not a return to business travel make, we have to start somewhere. So, how about we all start traveling and sharing our experiences? I’m sure many of you have already done just that, but maybe we can do this as a collective to help people get more comfortable with traveling for business again. What better group of subject matter experts than all of us to provide the anecdotal data needed to support some of the positive statistics I referenced earlier?

I’m going to do my part to get back to the business of business travel. Who is with me?

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  1. Great piece Tony, as we would only ever expect. There is one fundamental difference though in the parrallels between your bowling and flying, certainly on this side of the pond. I am ready to travel, I experience risk every day when I go to the grocery store or my son comes home from being with his colleagues at school and I am prepared to accept this risk. But the UK government won’t let me fly. Or rather, it has withdrawn advisory to and that means that I am not covered by my insurance and I am subject to quarantine as a result. Of course, in a second wave of the virus this is somewhat understandable. So, it’s not for the want of flying. In a “permissible travel” era we need company readiness + employee readiness and government permission. Without the last, we are hamstrung. Governments across the world need to coordinate practices and processes with much more urgency if we are to see any volume of return.

    1. Thanks Paul and yes before we do anything we need the government/ authorities to permit us to get back out there. To wit, New York just entered a revised lockdown that will have restaurants, bars and yes, bowling alleys close by 10pm. When those windows open even slightly, I’m jumping in :-).

  2. As we’ve come to expect, Tony is as fun to read as he is provocative. I agree that reestablishing business travel will require leadership and that we need to look to ourselves for that leadership. What I question is whether now is the time to restart routine air travel. We all know the numbers. I think that we need to hang in there for a while yet. Our first priority should be limiting the spread of the virus. Nothing is possible if we don’t do that. Then when the risk recedes, we should take Tony up on his offer. It’s always good to see him!

    1. Thanks Alan. Obviously there’s a lot to consider as we make what is a very personal decision and one that is also complicated by government rules and restrictions and the employee/employer relationship. So it’s not a simple issue but I’m a simple guy and figured I would start somewhere :-).

  3. I truly appreciate Tony’s perspective and oh if it weren’t true. People who force themselves to believe they can now get back to their regular lives are wrong, many dead wrong. I spoke with a new customer recently who is based in Melbourne, Australia. He told me that they had just come out of a lockdown, government-sanctioned for four months. The residents could only travel five kilometers for groceries. The lockdown was for four months. Was it inconvenient? Sure, but the outcome was worth it, going from 700 deaths a week to none. Yes, none, and this was over one month after the lockdown. And I might add everyone wears a mask going out. They take pride in their city, and it should be a lessen for all of us. Bowling and meeting in person can wait! Let’s get this pandemic gone. It takes fortitude, strength and most of all caring for your fellow man! Why can’t we do this together? The alternative is we will live with Covid and die with Covid.

  4. This is very entertaining but you buried the lede, Tony.

    “I’m ready to do my part. Consider this an open offer to customers, prospects and partners: Let’s meet in person. I’ll come to your office or any place you feel comfortable. To industry associations looking for a speaker or in-person event attendees, I’m ready. I’ll be there.”

    Fear and risk of travel isn’t the problem. The problem is that for 80 percent of travelers — Tony included — there’s nowhere to go on a business trip, and if there’s nowhere to go then there’s no business travel. No in-person meetings, no in-person events, no in-person training. You’re a salesperson, account manager, consultant, marketer, accountant, lawyer — there’s nowhere for you to go besides Zoom. Offices are closed to employees, to say nothing of visitors. Conferences are virtual.

    Proving that travel is safe brings back approximately zero business travel. Making offices safe and open to employees and visitors, making conferences safe for attendees and staff — that’s what brings business travel back.

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