United CEO Scott Kirby is pinning his hope on a rebound in business travel in human nature. But has human nature fundamentally evolved due to COVID-19?
United CEO: We Are Social Creatures So Business Travel Will Rebound
Speaking to Scott Solombrino in the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Industry Forum Series, Kirby was asked about the future of business travel. With companies now accustomed to remote work and virtual meetings, will there be a permanent decline in business travel?
“Who knows, is the honest answer. The world will change, and it will be different. But the more I do Teams meetings and Zoom, the more I miss the personal connection…We are social creatures and I don’t think we’ll be able to create the kinds of relationships we want with our customers and coworkers, to network with others in our industries, if we’re not doing it in person.”
And to that answer, I can only say bravo. First, he’s right that we just don’t know what is going on. With China shutting down 60% of air traffic today in Beijing and new cases surging in the USA in certain states that have re-opened, we may need to brace ourselves for a much longer period of economic pain.
But his labeling of humans as social creatures strikes a chord. My own primary business is languishing not just because of the shutdown, but because borders are closed and I cannot travel freely to meet clients and sort out issues. Meeting a prospective client via email or telephone will never be the same and commencing a huge deal without a face-to-face meeting is simply a no-go in my book.
In that sense, I think Kirby is right…there will never be a replacement for in-person meetings.
On the other hand, though, I recognize my business is not necessarily like others. In talking to colleagues and friends, it seems many have found that Zoom, Teams, or Skype work out just fine and save both time and money. Furthermore, much of the corporate world seems to be taking a conservative approach. Travel policies still restrict most travel and that will not change any time soon.
While there is no question we cannot fully cultivate relationships via WhatsApp or WeChat, it does appear most of the world is willing to accept that compromise and seems in no rush to resume face-to-face meetings.
You can watch the entire interview here. There’s 30 minutes of interesting dialogue. But that statement on human nature caught my attention. And whether the “personal connection” is dead or just hibernating is something we just cannot see at this point on a widespread basis.
How about you? Are you anxious to resume business travel? Do you see travel as a tradeoff between safety and business?