Can business travel really be replaced by video conferencing?

With a global increase in social distancing due to the current health crisis, video conferencing solutions have never had so much attention. However, these solutions had already begun to take off in a significant way, well before the devastating effects of Covid-19. So much so that questions are being raised about replacing some business travel with these new possibilities, which are synonymous with both time and money savings.

Are virtual meetings an alternative to business travel?

A growing number of organisations are, in fact, favouring remote communication, in a context where business travel is regularly criticized because of its environmental impact. Business travel does, however, play a central role in companies’ development and commercial activities. At the last IFTM event, the following question was clearly raised during one of the conferences: “Are virtual meetings becoming an alternative to business travel? ”

With easier means of communication thanks to innovation and ever-more robust and reliable technological tools, this option holds great appeal for many decision-makers as business travel represents the third largest cost within companies after human resources and property. The potential for reducing travel-related fatigue and stress for employees, achieving consistency with CSR policies and reducing the environmental impact also work in favour of this alternative.

Maintaining relationships: one of the key stages in its development

But despite these attractive arguments, physical relationships are still widely favoured. According to a recent study from Egencia conducted by the Harvard Business Review, only 30% of executives surveyed do not see business travel as adding value. In fact, 89% of respondents believe that face-to-face meetings should be favoured in several crucial situations. For 89% of decision-makers, these situations include meeting a new customer, better understanding consumers – which, for 82% of respondents requires physical travel – as well as for contract negotiation (71%).

A majority of respondents also consider that a face-to-face meeting should be favoured when initiating an M&A discussion, but also when identifying new professional opportunities and managing major international projects. Aside from the choice between virtual meetings and business trips, many experts highlight that these two options do not meet the same need.

As an example, at the IFTM conference, a company specialising in cloud computing services has largely turned to remote collaborative working solutions since 2017, in an effort to reduce non-essential business travel. But business travel is still essential, as one executive recalled: “our company is continuing to grow rapidly, and of course, we still need to organise a number of trips that are often essential. It’s simply a matter of having a new approach to business travel. ”

At a time when travel is greatly reduced or even prohibited for the majority, virtual solutions have been forced upon us and are currently overriding our usual habits. But it’s clear that once this period has passed, people will once again play a decidedly key role in business negotiations.

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