We live in strange times and it is safe to say that many of our established ways of living will change. Social distancing in public places, sport events without public, offices working on 20-30 % capacity with strict hygiene rules just to name a few. Business travel makes no exception, and it will have to adapt to the new situation.
As someone who spent ten working weeks on average on business travel over the past six years, this is a topic that’s very important to me.
People will be afraid to travel
It is more than likely that some people will not feel comfortable going on a business travel, especially when it includes flying. This will apply mostly to employees with small children and elderly relatives who live in the same household or are visited on a regular basis. Airports are very busy hubs, and the exposure to viruses like COVID-19 is significant.
Flight prices could go up
All airlines are facing significant difficulties operating under the current conditions. LATAM, Latin America’s largest airline, filed for bankruptcy earlier in May. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and many more US based carriers will receive $50bn from of US Treasure Department as part of the aid against COVID-19. Lufthansa is getting a €9bn rescue package from the German government.
All these uncertainties make it difficult to predict what flight prices will look like going forward. Of course, everything should be based on supply and demand, but not knowing how many passengers there will be, and which airlines will make it through the crisis, complicates the matter significantly.
Business travel is expensive
Although business travel is a necessity nowadays, it is also questionable whether its usage is properly applied. Face-to-face interaction is important, but there are cases where a trip can be spared, and a conference call can be held instead. I will not dive into more details now, but I am confident that every company now realizes which of its activities are suffering from the lack of business travel, and which ones do not really require it. I expect that many of them will reevaluate their business travel policies in the upcoming months, leading to potentially less business trips in the future.
Communication software is entering its golden age
With everything said so far, we have to admit that conference call technology is not as advanced as we would’ve wanted it to be. Applications like Microsoft Teams and Slack are seeing significant increase in usage, but both have a long road ahead in terms of feature requirements coming from the user base. Teams is good for video calls, but feels a bit strange when it comes to chat. Slack is quite the opposite, lacking key features like screen share on their mobile app, but is better when it comes to their chatting capabilities.
Apart from the regular daily needs in the office, similar applications will be required for online conferences as well. A good example is Collision, a tech conference that was originally scheduled to take place in Toronto in June, but due to COVID-19, the organizers changed their tactics, and renamed it to Collision From Home. It is yet to be seen how successful such a conference could be, having in mind that it was supposed to have 30 000 attendees.
I expect to see other players trying to enter the market by putting in significant investments.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
I don’t believe that we are close to inventing teleportation, but I’m confident that we are not far from the time when we can have meetings not only using a web camera and a computer screen, but holograms and other interactive ways of communication. VR and AR are coming. This will attract investors who were not particularly interested or didn’t put much thought and effort into the manner due to other priorities until now. Who knows? Maybe Elon Musk already has a team looking into this.
One thing is certain. Business travel will change, and companies will have to adapt to the new reality. As a person who will try his best not to travel this year, I am looking forward to seeing how innovation will change the way we communicate going forward.