According to a survey of over 1,100 business executives across several countries in Asia Pacific conducted by CWT, the global travel management company, and recruitment specialists Ambition, more than three quarters (78 per cent) of businesspeople prefer meeting in-person to using technology-enabled communications such as video-conferencing.
Of those, nearly one in four (23 per cent) said this is because it helps them build stronger, more meaningful relationships, 17 per cent said they prefer to read people’s body language and facial expressions when in a meeting, and 15 per cent said that they find it easier to get their point across and be persuasive face-to-face.
The 22 per cent of respondents who said they prefer virtual meetings pointed to time and costs as the main reasons — 27 per cent said so because it’s cheaper than travelling to attend meetings, and 35 per cent said that saving time was a key benefit.
Face-to-face meetings are as essential as they are expensive
The vast majority (92 per cent) of respondents, however, agreed there are tangible business benefits to face-to-face meetings that outweigh any cost savings achieved through technology-enabled meetings.
Despite this, budget restrictions were the most commonly cited hurdle, with nearly two in five (38 per cent) 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 Bindu Bhatia, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Carlson Wagonlit Travel.
“It can impede your employees from doing their jobs effectively, hurting the bottom line and your long-term business strategy.
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 realize $12.50 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 behaviors – such as how far in advance they make their bookings – can also cut costs.”
Measuring the return-on-investment of business travel
Only 28 per cent of the respondents surveyed said their companies measure the return-on-investment (ROI) on their business travel spend. Nearly half (47 per cent) said their companies don’t track the ROI on their business travel, while the remaining 25 per cent 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 Michael Ryan, Managing Director, Australia & New Zealand, Carlson Wagonlit Travel.
“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.”
“By combining travel data with HR, corporate finance and other data sources, you can begin to understand the true cost of a business trip versus the value it generates. For example, overlaying travel data with finance data can show you the correlation between travel and revenue growth, and you can see what impact cutting the travel budget for a particular department would have on the business.”
Designing better travel policies to attract and retain talent
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 per cent) 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 per cent) said corporate travel policies influence their job search.
“In the face of a growing global talent shortage, attracting and retaining the right people can be challenging, especially if candidates are receiving multiple offers,” said Paul Endacott, Regional Managing Director, Asia, Ambition.
“Fast-growing Asian-headquartered companies which are expanding internationally and trying to compete with established global players are acutely aware of this.
Well-designed corporate travel policies can be a selling point and help these companies differentiate themselves to potential employees, particularly in industries like financial services, technology, supply chain management and procurement, which involve a lot of travel.”
The complete set of findings from the survey are available in the “Gain the Advantage With Face-to-Face Meetings” research paper, which can be downloaded for free here.