PRESENCE OR PURPOSE?
Much has been made about the “return to normal” that we haven’t really considered what this may actually look like. However, you don’t have to look too far to read the tea leaves about what we can expect.
Three different stories have recently been published about the future of corporate travel and worth examining.
First, The Times of London, “Mars to cut corporate travel by half,” points out that one of America’s largest privately held businesses and the world’s biggest confectioner will be cutting its travel by half and slicing 145,000 flights moving forward and this isn’t a temporary move.
Of course, learning that the company that produces ubiquitous favorites such as Snickers, Three Musketeers, Twix, and of course M&M’s flies globally with nearly 300,000 excursions per year was mind-blowing enough. Yet the thesis behind this move comes down to a simple premise which is that Mars’s management has declared that for staff to travel it must for, “purpose, rather than presence”. Hmm, that’s a monumental change of philosophy for any company large or small and this gives us an insight into what business travel is and what it is not. Or at the least being more mindful about the abundance of trips we take.
Second is this recent article in Bloomberg.com, “‘Forever Changed’: CEOs Are Dooming Business Travel — Maybe for Good.” Which states that their survey of 45 large companies in the U.S., Europe and Asia shows that 84% plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic.
Ok, there is a bit of hyperbole in the headline, but one might want to take notice of the rationale behind some of this decision making. In the article and clearly articulated by Will Hawkley, the global head of travel and leisure at KPMG LLP. “We don’t think business travel will ever return to 2019 levels…Corporates are looking at their bottom-line, their environmental commitments, the demand from employees for more flexible working and thinking: Why do I have to bring that back?”
There’s definitely much to unpack in that one statement that is permeating throughout the corporate world and one that can’t be ignored.
And third in an article closer to home in Globest.com this week, “Business Travel Revenue Won't Reach Pre-COVID Levels Until 2024,” at least shows the possibility that corporates may open up again for future movement. It’s just that there is still a long climb back up to what we’ve seen as conducting business in a “regular” fashion. And beyond the devastation to the airlines and hospitality industries, the pure destruction of the labor markets is also hard to comprehend if you give it a moment to think about.
What does this all mean? Nobody knows for sure, but it doesn’t take much thought to see that some of the travel we had in the past was for more, “presence” over “purpose.” And as we find our way through a post-pandemic world, we’ll realize that we simply won’t be on as many planes and in as many hotel rooms as we used to be. Our visits to long-form conferences and events will also change as more and more COO's and CIO's will ask the question of, "why is this essential." And we all better have a great reason to do so.
What that percentage actually works out to be is too soon to predict, but we should still have the expectations that this is what is here now.