Forget about losing deals to competitors, some fear a big innovation gap is on the way if business travel doesn’t restart soon.
Many figures in corporate travel have stressed the need for face-to-face interaction and the deals that can only be done in person — but the collaboration and resulting innovation is not often touched on.
Eric Bailey, global director of travel, VenueSource and payments at Microsoft, sees a lack of new ideas further down the road.
Speaking during a recent CAPA Live panel, Bailey says that innovation or "development gap" could mean a missed opportunity to do a billion dollar deal.
He says people will start to feel they don’t get things done in the same way via virtual meetings, as they do when they can quickly collaborate face-to-face and bring others in.
“We have all got our schedules together at an event and there is something kind of magical about that, that brings about that very quick innovation," he argues.
"That’s the risk that I think, more than competing for customers and showing them things because we can do a lot of those things now, buy companies and sell stuff. It’s going to be that innovation, those leaps forward that we all feel when we travel, that different way of thinking. None of us can afford to lose that.”
Others travel executives on the panel, which included Rob Gurney, CEO of the Oneworld alliance, and Andrew Crawley, chief commercial officer for American Express Global Business Travel, agree that people will need to get back on planes to build relationships.
Bailey says 25,000 people recruited at Microsoft during the pandemic have never met their boss or their direct reports.
He adds that those people will seek more of a human connect but will question whether a trip is needed and how travel will make them “work better".
Greg Webb, CEO of Travelport, believes people will begin to feel virtual interactions no longer work for them but says a data-driven approach is needed in the way the industry comes back because of remote workforces and people potentially not going back to offices.
He also says the current low booking volumes are driven by policy and not people’s desire to travel.
Echoing that sentiment, Crawley says that the industry is ready but governments are not quite ready.
“There are a couple of things that we identified some months back which still haven’t been fixed. IATA stated that if volumes come back to normal, waits at border control will potentially grow up to 10 to 11 hours long which is wholly unacceptable and the airport infrastructure would grind to a halt.”
He adds that there is a need for governments to “bilaterally agree and recognise” the digital Covid health certificates developed by IATA and others.
“That is a big piece of heavy lifting that governments need to get on with. It’s about government confidence now rather than consumer confidence.”