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Will business travel return to pre-pandemic levels? – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Business travel during the pandemic has dropped significantly as companies used technology and other solutions to avoid traveling all over the U.S. and other nations.

A new report from Bloomberg found several large companies don’t plan to go back to old business travel plans. This is because of significant cost savings of using Zoom and other video services instead of paying to fly workers around.

Bloomberg’s survey of 45 large businesses in the U.S., Europe and Asia shows that 84 percent plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic.

This could be bad news for San Diego, which relies on large industry conventions for tourism dollars. Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith told Bloomberg he was less convinced business travel was going way: “I hear many of our corporate customers saying that the day they lose an account because they weren’t somewhere face-to-face will immediately bring them back to the way operations were before.”


Q: Will business travel return to pre-pandemic levels?

Kelly Cunningham, San Diego Institute for Economic Research

NO: Technologies always change business operations, efficiency, and productivity. Ease and effectiveness of virtual software vastly accelerated with businesses able to conduct remote interactions during the pandemic shutdown. Sophisticated communication capabilities allowed efficient use of time and financial resources for businesses to continue work, develop products, sign contracts without traveling. At minimum, post-pandemic business travel will need to justify not being conducted online. Undoubtedly business travel will continue to happen, but not return to pre-pandemic levels.

Phil Blair, Manpower

NO: Sometimes it takes a shock to the system, like a pandemic to realize changes in the way we do business. The norm has changed in the last 18 months. Clients have not missed visits by sales people, both locally and nationally and sales and service people have realized that it is not a productive use of either the clients or the service staff to spend days traveling with little more than ”checking in” with clients or a face to face “I want your business.” And the number of CEO’s that have seen the millions of dollars they can save annually by curtailing travel is growing. Thank you Zoom, GoToMeeting etc. You are here to stay.

Gary London, London Moeder Advisors

NO: Expect a tepid return to business travel and conferences/conventions. But not to pre-pandemic levels. Businesses, employees and customers have mostly gotten accustomed to virtual meeting, and while often not perfect or desired, it is substantially easier and cheaper to meet and communicate in this way. Also, technologies are emerging to enhance the virtual experience. Nevertheless, I think it’s time to chuck those shorts and T-shirts and improve your wardrobe!

Alan Gin, University of San Diego


NO: There will be some business travel but not at pre-pandemic levels. Businesses have found that they can save considerable money with virtual meetings. There will be some in-person meetings, but those will be reserved for the most important situations. Travel and office space are the two areas where businesses have been able to significantly reduce costs, and many will try to maintain those savings in the future. That is bad for San Diego’s economy, which saw substantial meeting and convention business in the past.

Bob Rauch, R.A. Rauch & Associates

YES: There are many reasons business travel will not return quickly. The pandemic, technology that allows for productive meetings via computer and saving dollars are a few of the reasons. But there is no substitute for meeting in person for conferences and closing deals. Within three years, 80 percent to 90 percent of pre-pandemic business travel will have returned. Layer in some remote leisure travel and we are home. In 1981, videoconferencing was going to supplant business travel. Really?

Austin Neudecker, Weave Growth


YES: While the pandemic certainly accelerated the trend of remote meetings, in the long run, I expect business travel to return. The timing to reach pre-COVID levels may take years with the threat of new variants, varying levels of vaccination, and latent exposure anxiety. But ultimately, in our increasingly connected world, meetings are a necessity. Even if the percentage of face-to-face goes down, the sheer amount of important meetings is doomed to keep many of us in the air.

Reginald Jones, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation

Not participating this week.

James Hamilton, UC San Diego


NO: At least not for a while. New variants of COVID are continuing to emerge, and the protection provided by the vaccines does not last as long as originally hoped. As we’ve been forced to find alternatives to conducting business in person, some of the new ways of doing things will persist even after threat of the disease is vanquished. Meeting by video may be less effective, but it is cheaper, more convenient, and better for the environment.

Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health

NO: Business travel will not return to pre-pandemic levels right away. I believe that many companies have discovered great efficiencies with Teams, Zoom and other telemeeting/conference tools and they will continue to use the technologies for more efficiency and lower costs. Having said that, once COVID gets under control, travel becomes safer, and a new normal sets in, people will want to travel again and attend in-person meetings in nice locations.

Norm Miller, University of San Diego


NO: As a board member of national organizations, I know that in the future many meetings will be hybrid, now that we have gained experience in how to include more remote people in a meeting. While we may travel less, we may also attend more meetings, some in person, some remotely. One drawback is the lack of socialization and serendipitous discussions, but for people that know each other well already, traveling a touch less or attending more meetings is not all bad.

Jamie Moraga, IntelliSolutions

YES: But it will be a while. Businesses are likely to remain virtual for the short term due to emerging virus variants and the uncertainty of vaccine effectiveness. The pandemic has also taught companies to better utilize current and emerging technologies to connect virtually and to see realized cost savings due to unnecessary travel and expenditures. Business travel is likely to be more directed with a specific return on investment. Post pandemic, the pendulum will eventually shift back to return to pre-pandemic levels.

David Ely, San Diego State University


NO: The benefits of personal interactions will lead to a partial recovery of business travel. However, many organizations became adept at conducting meetings and attending conferences virtually during the pandemic. To lower travel expenses and use employee time more effectively, these organizations will continue to use technology to communicate and avoid travel when it is not essential. Also, some businesses will act to decrease employee travel as they seek to reduce their carbon footprint.

Ray Major, SANDAG

NO: Not any time soon. The liability a company might face requiring an employee to travel until COVID is under control, and the expense associated with business travel will keep companies from returning to pre-pandemic travel levels. About half of business travel is a necessity, and these trips will resume as COVID wanes. With the successful adoption of technologies like Zoom, half of the trips are discretionary travel and can easily be replaced.

Lynn Reaser, Point Loma Nazarene University


NO: While technology has enabled more effective virtual connections, the pandemic has driven companies to weigh more carefully the costs of business trips versus their benefits. In addition to travel’s dollar expense, firms are now paying more attention to employees’ health and well-being, while climate goals are driving companies to reduce their carbon footprint. Only high-impact in-person customer and employee meetings will occur, while virtual will replace some or many in-person meetings during the year.

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