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?
Social creatures yes, but part of that is changing for better or worse. I use to “hop” a plane fly across country to have lunch or dinner with a client, but that maybe “old school’ going forward, not to say people won’t stop doing that I get the feeling changes abound. Conventions and conferences are being reviewed at the highest level of corporations, with the result being attendance at that ” must go” conference will be chopped. I foresee 25% to 35% downward reduction in people I talk to. I know in our company it’s been cut 50%.
So while Kirby is correct ( yesterday) will he be rich today and tomorrow? I have a ten year running trip with a client that has been cancelled this year.
At some point, business/leisure travel will rebound. That is true. Whether flyers choose to fly with United after its unacceptable changes is another story
Forgot that point and your right Former UA1K good catch. Frankly if Kirby follows in the foot steps of Parker @American where he worked then the answer is NO. Maybe they will permanently ground all their “Ghetto” planes. I remember when they merged first thing took those really nice long haul 767’s off the Houston/Honolulu/Guam flights on put on the worse of the worse replacement. I ended up back to DL to NRT and back track to Guam
International business travel will rebound. The question is when. I am, in normal times, an 8-11 international trip per year business traveler. This year, I made one international business trip in February and I do not realistically expect to make another one this year. I am in the defense business. Our customers do not do Zoom or Skype meetings. Many lack the technology and most are not allowed to communicate details of military hardware over electronic media. COVID isn’t going to change that for my industry.
As you note, company travel policies will need to relax first. But before that can happen, borders need to reopen and reopen without onerous restrictions (an open border with a mandatory 14 day quarantine is, in effect, a closed border). I don’t see borders reopening outside of some leisure destinations in the foreseeable future, quite possibly not at all this year and well into next. Then, once borders reopen, businesses and governments in those now open countries have to be willing to accept foreign visitors. That will likely lag behind the borders opening. Long story short – and I do hope I am wrong here – I don’t expect that the conditions to allow for large scale international business travel to rebound until late 2021.
That is one of my all-time favorite commercials. I recite it to young coworkers all the time.
I think he is correct that telecommuting does not replace in-person relationships. However, I think he overestimates the extent to which business travel will bounce back. My own view is that business travel will resume, but at much lower volume. The cost-benefit of meeting in person versus on video chat has moved significantly in favor of video chat. As an example, say a board of directors meets 4 times per year, normally in person. Their last 2 meetings have been virtual. I now think that they will settle into a new normal of meeting virtually every other meeting.
Social creatures, yes. But we are also adaptable creatures. As we adjust to the new normal, I have heard many people who traveled extensively for business meetings pre-COVID-19 say that it is no longer necessary as a result of all the video conferencing and the way it has rapidly evolved. Even on-site facility inspections can now be done thanks to AI technology.
Once again, Kirby shows us how out of touch he is with the times.
Business travel has spent up demand and the points are valid. Having just completed a personal transcon round trip on UA, business travel is dead on arrival under current policies. United has now doubled down and are talking about crews becoming mask police and restricting “privilages” on the airline for failure to comply. 6 hour flights behind masks is neither security safe, healthy nor instills confidence in the experience. Until normalcy can resume, no one I work with is excited about rebreathing their own exhaust for long hours in the seat. Panic pandering only will prolong their business downturn and I am a loyal, desperate to fly, higher fare customer.
I like to take an airline flight. I fly mostly for business. I do not see flying again in 2020. There’s a chance that one trip will have to be made but likely not even that.
Covid-19 is worse in most states. It’s better in New York but still many, many new cases. People are still dying.
I see myself being non-elite cattle in 2022. If that is the penalty for not causing other people to die because I would have gotten Covid-19, then that is the way it is.
By late summer, I see a theoretical possibility for me to fly for leisure but I will not. I do not see a possibility for business travel.
The quicker we get a cure or vaccine, the faster business travel will rebound. Until then, virtual travel is in vouge. No company I know is going to take on the liability of catching and spreading a pandemic just to shake hands. Me entire industry moved from a trade show every couple weeks somewhere in the world to virtual…