Business trips will be more purposeful but fewer in number in a post-pandemic world, a group of European business leaders has suggested.

A panel of European business leaders responsible for corporate travel from across ten industries convened by Accor highlighted sustainability and well-being as two of the key watchwords in a world where financial budgets are being replaced by carbon ones. Business travel will remain at a lower level than pre-pandemic, with Accor’s Sophie Hulgard, northern Europe senior vice president of sales, expecting 20 per cent fewer business trips this year 2022 compared to 2019. Another delegate at the ‘Masters of Travel’ event suggested there would be 50 per cent fewer trips. 

The forecast reduction was attributed to technology replacing the need to travel while the remainder is ‘business critical’ travel. However, the Accor research revealed that workers expect to make 25 per cent more revenue through face-to-face meetings than virtual ones, achieve three times as much from them, and benefit from a range of well-being advantages including much-missed social interaction with colleagues and associates.

Delegates said that engaging employees and motivating them to get back on the road, when they are now used to working from home, is a priority for businesses in 2022 because they believe that productivity and revenue go up when people connect in person. Firms anticipate making an average of 23 per cent more deals a year when they are able to speak to their contacts face-to-face, rather than using only video or phone conferencing options, the Accor study found.

But business travel priorities have undergone a major shift, with any trip needing to justify its carbon cost. The pandemic has stimulated the emergence of “mindful travel”, where business travellers aim to make travel count professionally, economically, sustainably and personally. 

Hulgard said: “Twenty per cent of business meetings may have gone forever, to be replaced by virtual equivalents or the realisation that they simply weren’t necessary in the first place. Instead, we are seeing the emergence of a much more purposeful business travel sector where companies want to maximise the value of each trip to reconnect teams, grow culture, strategise, close deals, and strengthen bonds with employees.

“Business travel enables real connections and has incredible power and value, not just in financial terms but – in the new post-pandemic mindset – increased employee satisfaction and well-being and therefore loyalty to employers. But the future of business travel must banish inconsequential trips and replace them with business-critical travel that is sustainably planned and delivers for the employee, the employer and the planet.”

Article first published by Travel Weekly.