Face-to-face beats virtual encounters

SINGAPORE, 7 December 2018: Good news for the traditionalists, who still believe in trade shows, corporate executives  still prefer meeting in-person as opposed to using technology-enabled communications such as video-conferencing.

The findings are part of a survey of over 1,100 business executives across several countries in Asia-Pacific conducted by CWT, a global travel management company.

It discovered more than three quarters (78%) of respondents prefer to meet in person rather than using video conferencing.

Of those, nearly one in four (23%) said it helped them build stronger, more meaningful business relationships.

Another 17% said they preferred to read people’s body language and facial expressions when in a meeting, and 15% said that they found it easier to get their point across and be persuasive face-to-face.

22% of respondents, who said they prefer virtual meetings, pointed to time and costs as the main reasons.

27% said it was cheaper than travelling to attend meetings, and 35% said that saving time was a key benefit.

The conclusion was face-to-face meetings were as essential as they are expensive.

The vast majority (92%) of respondents believed there were tangible business benefits to face-to-face meetings that outweighed any cost savings achieved through technology-enabled meetings.

Despite those sentiments, budget restrictions were the most commonly cited hurdle, with nearly two in five (38%) respondents saying this had prevented them from meeting face-to-face. Instating a travel freeze towards the end of the year is an annual ritual at many companies – it’s frequently used as a relatively painless mechanism to save money.

“A company-wide travel freeze may be short-sighted,” said Carlson Wagonlit Travel managing director Asia-Pacific, Bindu Bhatia. “It can impede employees from doing their jobs effectively, hurting the bottom line. Business travel has long been viewed as a controllable or discretionary spend, when in fact there are many instances where it should be looked upon as a strategic investment to fuel business growth.”

Research by Oxford Economics USA found that for every dollar invested in business travel, companies realise USD12.50 in incremental revenue.

“Instead of a blanket ban on travel, focused and targeted actions to limit travel and expense (T&E) spending – either with the type of travel, or departments that are not directly related to business growth – can provide better and more sustainable avenues of savings. It’s best to define essential and non-essential travel parameters and work from there,” said Bhatia. “At the same time, looking at employees’ travel purchase behaviours – such as how far in advance they make their bookings – can also cut costs.”

Measuring return-on-investment

Only 28% of the respondents surveyed said their companies measure the return-on-investment (ROI) on their business travel spend. Nearly half (47%) said their companies don’t track the ROI on their business travel, while the remaining 25% were not sure.

“One of the key reasons companies struggle to measure the ROI on their travel spend is that travel data is still viewed in a vacuum,” said Carlson Wagonlit Travel. managing director, Australia & New Zealand, Michael Ryan. “Understanding the ROI on business travel means looking beyond just flight and hotel costs. Business travel should be viewed in the context of operations, revenue streams and human impact.”

Design better travel policies

Similarly, overlaying travel data with HR data lets companies see how their travel policies affect employee productivity and well being. For example, there may be certain trips where it makes sense to let employees fly business class if it means they can work during the flight. Organizations can also look into the relationship between business travel and employee illness or staff turnover, and then take appropriate action such as giving employees time off after certain business trips.

More than three in five (61%) respondents to the survey said they factor in a company’s travel policy when evaluating a new job opportunity. This pattern is even more pronounced with road warriors who have taken more than 10 trips in the past year – close to three quarters (71%) said corporate travel policies influence their job search.