Like many other professionals in my line of work, I have paid my dues in terms of million miler airline status , decades of top tier hotel loyalty and rental car loyalty status etc . I got to live and work in three continents thanks to this job – and have enjoyed getting to know different cultures and expanding my skills and my world view . I have enjoyed better vacations with my family because of the loyalty rewards as well . For more than twenty years, I have taken business travel for granted and rarely given it a second thought . I often answer “at a Friendly Airport near you” when people ask me “where are you based?” 🙂
The last time I was in a plane was in early March this year when I returned from India after my father’s funeral . The honest truth is that I don’t miss business travel today . My entire global team – more than a thousand people – took about two days to become fully remote . We have been productive and now are quite comfortable running our business with webex , mural , Trello , slack and so on .
So why did I start thinking about business travel again ? Simply because I have started to realize that meeting people on webex is not a long term sustainable strategy for growing relationships – be in personal or professional . Also, while it is possible to build on existing relationships – it’s extremely difficult to build new relationships in a remote fashion . Efficiency can be managed somehow when we are remote – but not efficacy !
What is behind my reluctance to travel ? It’s primarily the fear of getting COVID-19 . There are secondary worries of course about social unrest , cleanliness , availability of food and so on given the lack of consistency of guidelines across US and the world on reopening, access to medical facilities should I need it in a hurry etc .
1. Zero contact everywhere I go
A good start will be to make sure everything about my travel experience becomes digital .
Airlines are good about this generally with boarding passes and occasionally baggage tags . But the physical agents and kiosks are still required at the slightest deviation from the happy flow . I don’t want to be in a crowd at the customer service kiosk , or go ask a gate agent for status or anything of that nature . I would love for airlines employees and me all to have mobile to mobile communication for vast majority of the time .
Hotels are inconsistent about digital keys – many of them still don’t offer it . I would like them to hurry . Check in and checkout have no good reason for me to ever meet an agent in person .
I don’t want to swipe my credit card anywhere either . Why do we need a physical card in this day and age ?
2. Common digital identity for all my travel
I don’t want the TSA agent to pickup my passport or driver’s license . I also don’t want the hotel to need to check that in person . There should be some machine to machine way of handling this . Technology really cannot be the bottleneck here . Privacy is absolutely a concern for sure – and it should be based on an opt-in basis .
Even without the COVID concerns – why do I need to have separate profiles and identity kept with each transportation provider ? Even within One world alliance – I often have to identify myself repeatedly if I am traveling using more than one airline .
3. A “Trust and Transparency score” I can search and rank by
Some airlines do not give away their middle seats and some do . Different hotels, rental car companies have different cleaning schedules . Some hotels serve food and others don’t . I need to know all this – and probably more – before I book my travel . This needs some kind of a score or tag that I can search providers by and choose the ones I am comfortable with using .
Travel industry essentially needs to make me feel really comfortable – and earn my trust with their transparency – before I travel again . I absolutely want that industry thriving again and I think business travel returning to growth is a big part of such recovery .
4. An expert digital travel advisor that follows me around on my phone
Things are changing by the minute and I don’t have the time and energy to stay on top of it when I am on the road . I need a digital friend to stay on top of my travel for me – warning me if my risk exposure is changing based on my location at any point (is meeting at a location where overnight there was a surge in Covid cases) , helping me change travel plans (was there a curfew announced and do I need to reschedule) with low friction , answering questions (where is the closest hospital with ICU capacity open) etc . I also want my family to have access to some of this information when I am on the road .
In my current estimate – there is no great need for me to travel for rest of this year unless there is some big unknown exception that arises . But I am almost certain that I will need to travel beyond that horizon for work and probably also to visit my mother in INDIA . I truly hope the travel industry will do everything they can to transform themselves and earn my loyalty again .
2 thoughts on “Future Of Business Travel – A Road warrior’s personal take”
Interesting thoughts Vijay.
One item that I think is a huge challenge is toilets whether it is in an airport, airplane (bad at the best of times), or other public area. You need to use them but this adds to risks.
You mention plane seats, you are not guaranteed that a middle seat will still be free at time of flight especially with how airlines handle standbys and cancellations.
TSA and sanitizer. Will they give you exemptions for carry on? Who would want to check a bag now as you would need gloves and sanitizer when you get it at the baggage area?
I have seen huge inconsistency in how masks are being worn, people not covering their nose, pulling them up with bare hands as people approach and then touching things, etc.
One additional point, how will governments and businesses deal with people who have developed immunity through prior infection or having T-cells that prevent them from catching the virus? At the moment the assumption is everyone is contagious.
Interesting challenges for sure. Not looking forward to traveling yet as you are so dependent on everyone in your series of interactions doing everything well as it would be a nightmare to assume everyone has done it the wrong way.
Hi Mike – thanks for your comments . All good points
Toilets are a huge problem but if they are transparent about their cleaning and usage protocol – hopefully we can get past it somehow
Individuals are a much harder problem . Flight attendants will need special training to deal with morons