Will Business Travel Ever Return? 3 Predictions for 2022

According to the Wall Street Journal, Delta Air Lines previously expected corporate travel to return to 60% of pre-pandemic levels by September… but executives now say they’ve seen a drop in bookings and a rise in cancellations in recent weeks.

As the pandemic marches on, many organizations are delaying travel and return-to-office plans, with some foregoing the idea indefinitely. While I don’t think business travel will vanish entirely, I do predict it will go through a major change.

I am personally thinking long and hard before I fly to a meeting. I’ve seen how a reduction in ‘travel time’ has enabled me to be healthier, more strategic, and enjoy my life more. I want to travel again, but the threshold of ‘worth it’ has become much higher.

Here are three predictions I have for business travel in 2022:

1.      Experiences will replace information-dumps

The only thing that makes the “this meeting should’ve been an email” feeling worse is when you flew to the meeting (vs. dialing in).

Gone are the days when 500 employees will fly into an airport Marriott, just to watch an executive read their PowerPoint aloud. In the future, in-person gatherings will be focused on forging connections, having shared experiences, or actually producing a work product.

Personally, I think this shift should’ve happened a decade ago, but better late than never I suppose. For smart organizations, future in-person interactions will lean more towards experiences, instead of pent-up information dumps.

2.      Team meetings will replace company meetings

With some organizations making the decision to embrace full-remote work indefinitely, I still predict a need for in person gathering to emerge, just on a smaller scale. No matter how many brainstorming platforms we have at our disposal, and the ever increasing Zoom tools out there … it’s not the same. Fully remote teams will recognize the benefit of being physically together, at least occasionally.

I was speaking with an executive client of mine last week about this. Her team has been fully remote for several years, long before COVID. But they met in person, once a year, to do some serious team building. She’s long cited those few days a year, together, in-person, as a key pillar to her remote team’s success. Developing close, human connections (even if you only occasionally see them) makes remote work less anonymous.

3.      In-person meetings will NOT replace digital experiences…they’ll simply start to leverage them

Over the last several years, our brains have adapted to multi-media, simultaneous experiences (even more so, lately). Your favorite show likely has a hashtag in the bottom right corner, so you can live Tweet. If you’re in a virtual meeting, you probably have Slack / Teams up too, to share your feedback live time.

If corporate America wants a fighting chance at our attention, the same framework needs to be applied to in-person meetings. Be it through live tweeting presentations or apps to network with colleagues, I predict the best in-person meetings will not replace our digital habits, they’ll simply leverage them.

As someone who has worked with hundreds of on-site hotel AV teams, I do have some concerns here. Most hotels events don’t exactly ooze tech-savviness (looking at you price-gouging meeting WiFi that’s SLOW). But, like any underdeveloped market, there’s an opportunity for someone to emerge as a major player, redefining what an ‘in person’ meetings look like.

The winners that capture the corporate-travel market will be the organizations who can create immersive, differentiated, and memorable experiences.

While I’m more than ready to retire my Delta-Diamond status, I do think in-person gatherings are necessary, and done well, they can be amazing.  That said, a ‘back to normal’ approach of huge meetings and boring information dumps will quickly kill any embers of reconnection.

In person gatherings should be reserved for experiences that bind us together, spark new ideas, and fill our emotional fuel tanks….no PowerPoint required.