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.

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

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.

When Do We Really Need Face-To-Face Interactions?
Do Chance Meetings At The Office Boost Innovation? There’s No Evidence Of It.
Corporate America: Travel Restrictions ‘Harm Our Business’
Op Ed: Suzanne Neufang On Reasons For Optimism And A Dose Of Reality With Business Travel Recovery
Business Travel’s Connection To Mental Health Was Never More Relevant
Polls Show Signs Of Optimism As Corporate Travel Remains Off By Roughly 70 Percent Versus 2019
McKinsey To Corporate Travel Managers: Seek Insights On Resuming Travel From Intermediary Data
Op Ed: Scott Gillespie On The Surprisingly Strong Case For Meeting In Person
Business Travel’s Personal Toll: Identity Threat Or Reality Check?
Why We Need Serendipitous Work Interactions In Our Lives


  1. As always, an earnest commentary from Tony. Your honesty about not having all the answers is refreshing. I’m tired of hearing from so-called experts saying this and that. Let’s just see what happens. I don’t think BT will be down 50 percent either but who knows. Maybe down 25 percent, but hey, I’m no expert … 😉

  2. I like that you went there Tony – and I suspect that this is indeed a thing to be considered for those who travelled a lot. I guess it sits juxtaposed from the employee who doesn’t/didn’t travel much, if at all, and who may now need/want to when they’re two years into their homeworking and looking for the fellowship of others.

  3. Travel is truly a hassle as I too don’t travel usually travel first or business or stay at 4- and 5-star hotels … and it has only gotten more difficult as a result of staff shortages and testing requirements … but oh how good it is to be face-to-face again!

  4. I appreciate your honesty and sense of humor. Travel is taxing and I have gotten used to the business up top attire and the shorts below on Zoom but there is no substitute for being there. When and why are the harder questions to answer. Only time will tell. Thanks for writing the Op Ed.

  5. Thanks, Tony for sharing a perspective that level sets what is obviously an unknown in many ways as to what happens next. The reality is nothing stays the same and we are often shocked when it happens abruptly. History proves to us that our cycle as humans is to overreact, forget and repeat. I can’t remember the last thing we stopped doing.

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