Will It Come Back?

More and more news stories seem to want to declare the bottom of the decline or even the end of the recession. While this is the news many of us are longing to see and I’m hopeful the next year will be one of recovery, what does this mean for the business travel industry?
In our recent edition of The Wire…from AirPlus, we asked travel buyers about their investments and use of travel alternatives such as telepresence and desktop video conferencing. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of respondents report increased usage of these technologies driven primarily by travel cost concerns and budget cuts. And while a quarter of respondents say that these technologies rarely or never are as effective as meeting in person, I think we need to expect than companies will require their continued use regardless of the broader economic climate.

So, while the intent of the survey was to understand what technologies are being used to replace the travel that is being cut or put on hold during the recession, it also begs the question of how much will stick when travel spending reigns are released. As I speak with travel managers I hear that travelers are beginning to embrace the use of video conferencing--particularly for internal meetings and training. In addition, after years of fighting increasing layers of security at airports and dealing with decreasing levels of service from airlines under extreme costs pressure, business travelers are enjoying the benefits of staying home. Does this spell a message of continued hard times for travel suppliers, even when the economy begins to grow? It doesn’t need to.

It will come back. And when I say 'it,' I mean demand for travel and a return to suppliers competing over the value and service they offer and not just price. After years of airlines cutting capacity and consolidation, and a boom in new properties by most hoteliers along with a refocus on developing the hotel brands, we will see a new age in business travel. When travelers return to the skies, roads and rails again, they will be expecting (and willing to pay more) for the services that suppliers offer. And suppliers, ready to see a return to profitability will be ready with products and services that attract the travelers (and their dollars).

In the end, I predict that all the investments in alternatives to travel we are seeing today will be the best thing that ever happened to our industry--for everyone.