‘It could have been a Zoom meeting:’ Companies Rethink Travel

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Boeing Chief Executive David Calhoun has access to the company’s planes as part of his job. Still, he told an interviewer that he didn’t expect to fly nearly as much for internal company meetings after the pandemic.

According to an account in “Leading at a Distance,” Mr. Calhoun, like some of his peers, video calls were remarkably effective for checking in with co-workers, allowing them to pack in more meetings and give them minimal advance notice. With permission to schedule. A recent book by James M. Citrine and Darlene DeRosa.

“I will do more or less customer journey, because it is still the most important way to build relationships,” Mr. Calhoun told the authors. “But most travel happens when the major big companies are visiting your own teams. I won’t do nearly that much.”

There is widespread agreement that how often we fly for work and what we travel for will change significantly after the pandemic. The one who is traveling may also be different. That, in turn, will bring about a change in what the travel industry provides to businessmen, which accounted for about a third of its revenue before the pandemic.

After a year and a half of doing almost all travel and business by video conference many business people have concluded that much of their previous travel time was not worth the further toll on their bodies and mental state, on their families. atmosphere. Even before considering the role of travel in transmitting the virus across continents.

there is a popular meme: “This meeting could have been an email.” Those of us who have driven long distances for the same work meeting know that we can often simply say, “This business trip could have been a Zoom call.”

And before the journey resumes completely, some organizations and individuals are taking steps to rein in it. Adding significantly to the pressure are the commitments many companies are making to reduce their emissions – goals that often include reducing the carbon footprint of employees’ business travel.

One scenario is what Mr Calhoun suggested: Companies could dramatically reduce entire categories of travel, such as in-person meetings with internal colleagues in other cities. For example, a Wall Street Journal analysis last year estimated that intra-company meetings and training represent 20 percent of all business travel and predicted that 40 to 60 percent would be gone permanently. The journal concluded that 19 to 36 percent Business trips will disappear. Bill Gates predicted last fall at DealBook’s conference Business travel will still be down by more than 50 percent once things return to normal.

Unlike domestic leisure travel, which it’s pretty goodBusiness travel has been relatively slow to return. Only 9 percent of companies say they have resumed their pre-pandemic travel levels a recent survey by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. United Airlines And Delta Airlines Both said recently that despite the increase in recent months, business travel remains about 60 percent below pre-pandemic levels. The rising coronavirus cases in recent weeks could further delay the recovery of business travel.

But Mr Calhoun’s plan to reduce his internal travel echoes the results of a survey by the Accountants Association, which found that two-thirds of companies were allowing travel for sales or client meetings, for internal purposes or for training programs. With less travel allowed.

Early signs suggest that most businesses will be reluctant to dramatically reduce the estimated two-thirds of business travel that includes sales calls and professional services such as client visits, conferences and consultations. Executives are wary of losing out to an opponent who actually appears in person, or watching an important contract go away because of poor virtual communication. Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said: in may Customers told him when “other people’s bankers came, and ours didn’t.”

United Chief Executive Scott Kirby, Earlier this year it was predicted “A complete recovery in business demand because business travel is all about relationships.” Speaking to investors via a conference call, he said, “You can’t make a human connection through a medium like this.”

Others also see the potential for increased corporate travel, as increasingly dispersed workers need to regroup regularly.

“What we describe as business travel can really grow in future years,” said Lindsey Nelson, chief experience and brand officer at online travel company TripAdvisor. “But the kind of people who are traveling and the kind of travel they are doing is about to change.”

Ms Nelson predicted that remote working arrangements meant more employees would go back to their corporate offices. So instead of an elite subset of employees constantly moving out of headquarters, a larger percentage of workers will fly into headquarters or offsite meeting locations to convene with each other.

Such a change may cause hotels and airlines to rethink their loyalty programs, which typically cater to intense road-warrior travelers, in order to attract the business of regular, but less frequent, travelers. Ms Nelson said such passengers can seek various perks, such as an extension of flexible flight cancellation conditions that were prevalent during the pandemic. Another trend the industry can meet: Nearly 90 percent of business travelers SAP Concur . surveyed by Recently they said they plan to attach personal vacation time to their business trips in the next year.

But instead of simply accepting that business travel will resume, companies can use changes in practices over the past year to open a new chapter in how they approach it. One compelling reason to do so is the environmental impact, especially as organizations pursue a reduction in their climate footprints.

Commercial air travel is responsible for almost 3 to 4 percent of total US greenhouse gas emissions. First class travel, because of the low seating density, can result in four times as much emissions as the rear seating of the aircraft.

For example, at Zurich reinsurance company Swiss Re, flights represent about two-thirds of its operational carbon footprint. As part of its net-zero emissions efforts, the company used the decline in corporate travel last year as an opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint more sustainably. Its employees’ air travel fell nearly 80 percent from 2018 levels last year and is expected to decline 30 percent or more from the 2018 baseline this year.

Swiss Re began adding a significant carbon emissions surcharge on flights purchased by its 13,200 employees in January — representing about $500 above the price of a Zurich to New York plane ticket. The team’s budget can absorb these charges — which Swiss Re uses for carbon offset and removal — because its employees are flying less.

But as travel kicks in and surcharges pinch the budget, the goal is to force employees to think harder when they’re booking travel whether it’s really necessary.

“We still need to travel to meet customers – but maybe not as often,” said Misha Repmann, senior environmental management specialist at Swiss Re. “We can merge trips, we can travel more thoughtfully than in the past.”

Other companies are also moving in the same direction. sales force announced in April It plans to cut its own business travel carbon emissions by 50 percent as a proportion of its revenue from 2019 levels. Deloitte unveils target to cut emissions per employee business trip 50 percent by 2030. EY’s goal Business travel emissions are to be cut by 35 percent from fiscal year 2019 to 2025.

In addition to reducing the number of flights, businesses are using The calculator To determine the least emissions-intensive locations for meetings such that some participants can reach by train. And some are usingcluster meetings, “where attendees gather in nearby hub locations and engage virtually with other regional groups.

Environmentalist and author Paul Hawken called flying long-haul for business meetings “a frighteningly monumental waste of resources” and argued that companies would do better with less corporate travel. “We just got a good lesson in how to be effective without moving the protoplasm around,” he said.

It will be easier for organizations to revert to their old practices, and probably many will. But their environmental goals will prompt some companies to rethink who travels and why. And while we know all too well the limitations of video meetings, there are compelling reasons to resign yourself to giving up some travel and settling on Zoom.

Mr. Delaney is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of charter, a media and services company focused on transforming workplaces.

what do you think Should companies cut business travel indefinitely? how? let us know: dealbook@nytimes.com.

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