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Virtual meetings no substitute for business travel — especially in Asia

More than 80% of business travellers indicated that the lack of travel has negatively impacted their jobs, with 28% unable to do their job effectively, according to latest research.

When business travel resumes, it won't just be about testing and vaccinations — clear communication on medical assistance and risk management will be key.
When business travel resumes, it won't just be about testing and vaccinations — clear communication on medical assistance and risk management will be key. Photo Credit:Getty Images/scanrail

The pandemic has accelerated the use of technology, bringing about tremendous connectivity globally — but it is no substitute for business travel, according to a study by Collinson, a global travel experience provider.

Despite the rise of video conferencing technologies, 81% of business travellers indicated that the lack of travel has negatively impacted their jobs, with 28% unable to do their job effectively.

In APAC, the impact of not meeting clients face-to-face has resulted in negative effects for business travellers in China (one in three), Hong Kong (over one quarter) and Singapore (one in four).

Todd Handcock, president APAC at Collinson said: "Business travel is one of the most important drivers for success in Asia, with our research showing that despite the success of virtual meetings, there's still a strong need and desire to recommence travel and meet face-to-face."

Martin Ferguson, vice president of public affairs at American Express Global Business Travel, added: "Video calls have a time and place, but these findings show that a face-to-face meeting can't always be replaced when it comes to staff productivity or, quite simply, getting new business deals done.

"Now is an opportune moment for companies to get their corporate travel programmes ready for the future."

Quarantine upon arrival or return is another major hurdle to booking a trip, especially for those surveyed in Asia. Most Hong Kong business travellers (57%) are hesitant to travel due to quarantine requirements, a sentiment echoed in Singapore (71%) and China (49%).

But a tension remains between the desire to resume business travel and concerns regarding budget, mental health and risk management.

Video calls have a time and place, but these findings show that a face-to-face meeting can't always be replaced when it comes to getting new business deals done, says Martin Ferguson, vice president of public affairs at American Express Global Business Travel.
Video calls have a time and place, but these findings show that a face-to-face meeting can't always be replaced when it comes to getting new business deals done, says Martin Ferguson, vice president of public affairs at American Express Global Business Travel. Photo Credit: Collinson

Focus on employee wellbeing

Before 2020, 84% of business travellers were concerned about the impact of business travel on their mental wellbeing, while 23% said it increased stress levels. Post-Covid, these sentiments have intensified — now 73% of global travellers indicate a priority on mental wellness more than ever when travel resumes. Corporate wellbeing initiatives will become high on the agenda in a post-Covid setting.

Ironically, more than half (51%) of those surveyed indicated their employers expected them to prioritise cost of travel over wellbeing. In addition, only half of these business travellers knew their companies had some form of travel risk management programme (TRM) in place pre-pandemic, yet 51% weren't sure what it meant for them — leading Collinson to conclude that when business travel returns, adequate support and clear communication should go hand in hand.

"In order to make business travellers feel comfortable travelling again, it won't just be a question of Covid-19 measures such as testing and vaccinations. Communication is key, and as such, employers and their medical assistance and TRM service partners need to take a holistic approach regarding traveller wellbeing," said David Evans, co-CEO, Collinson.

Added Handcock: "As vaccine programmes continue to be rolled out and more travel bubbles are established, businesses must look to evolve existing meeting and travel protocols — both to ensure that their people feel protected and comfortable, and to meet corporate duty of care requirements in the [upcoming] ISO 31030 travel risk standard."


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