Seasoned frequent traveler Tony D’Astolfo of Serko recognizes the value of face-to-face interaction, and is eager for more of it, but also that travel is harder nowadays. He asks a difficult question: What if businesspeople don’t want to get back on the road?
Maybe I’ve gotten a bit too comfortable staying at home, wearing sweatpants while doing Teams meetings. I must admit, I’ve gotten used to the extra freedom. And the sweatpants.
For each of the past 20 years before 2020, I flew no fewer than 100,000 miles and most of those miles were “hard.” My definition of hard includes more than 30 weeks on the road, lots of short-haul trips, mostly in economy, and at cheap and cheerful accommodations. (I expect to hear from those who have worked with me about “cheap and cheerful,” words that formed the backbone of Tony D’s personal travel policy for years).
I think we can all agree that a business trip in first or business class that includes a stay at a four- or five-star property can be a very pleasurable experience. With no offense meant to my airline or hotel friends, adding the words “comfort,” “premium,” “plus,” or “value” to a seat in the section behind the curtain takes a bit of the luster off business travel. So does a hotel room where you can park your car right outside the door.
But before you settle comfortably into that first-class seat and sip your pre-departure glass of bubbly, you still have to navigate your way to and through the airports (likely with mask on), hoping that the lines are short, the TSA sniffer dog doesn’t pick up the scent of your “medication” and your newly required documents are all in order.
With so much focus on getting business travelers back on the road, I’m going to pose a question we in the industry might not want to hear: What if a lot of people don’t want to go back to traveling? Am I an outlier when I say that, while I relish seeing people in person, I don’t relish the process by which I arrive at that meeting?
Maybe it’s time to admit that there are usually only 12 seats up front and that some of us still check in to our rooms with one of those UV flashlights. (I did a blog post about bedbugs back in the day, and those lights can also detect all sorts of things on your sheets, so don’t laugh.)
No one has ever confused me with Bill Gates, and I certainly don’t agree with his prediction that business travel will permanently be reduced by 50 percent, but I think we must consider that business travel can be hard. Like the return after 9/11, it will become permanently harder. Some people simply don’t want to come back.
I don’t have any answers, nor do I think this is necessarily a problem in search of an answer, but I will close with some advice to consider when having conversations with your business travelers as you pull together your post-pandemic travel budgets. If that conversation happens over Teams, ask them to adjust the camera downward, and if they are dressed in anything but a nice pair of slacks, I suggest you reduce your budget by 5 percent.
As for me, I might be less free the next time I see you and I’m still looking forward to it, but maybe not so much the travel required to make it happen.
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