With the rise of virtual technology, some have questioned the necessity of business travel, but here’s why it’s still an incredible investment.

It boosts a company’s revenue

Think virtual meetings can generate the same profits as face-to-face meetings? That’s not what our research reveals.

We along with American Express have just launched a new study called Back to Blue Skies that demonstrates how business travel can translate into increased revenue. In our survey of US business travel decision-makers, more than four in five respondents said that business travel leads to higher profit (85%) and revenue (85%).

In another just-released survey from Censuswide polling business travelers, nearly 14% of respondents estimated their company had lost 40% or more of its revenue due to the lack of business travel, another 45% said it lost more than 20%, and yet another 18% stated it lost less than 10%. Just about 16% of respondents said their business did not lose any revenue due to the pause on travel.

Surprise! It has a positive effect on productivity and job satisfaction

Despite reports showing the adverse effects business travel has on a person’s well-being, there are still plenty who prefer the hustle and bustle of this lifestyle over being strapped to a desk at the office or home. At least, that’s what the findings of our Back to Blue Skies report suggest. Respondents said that said business travel increases their engagement (88%), productivity (84%), problem-solving skills (86%), and makes them more empathetic individuals (82%). And 88% said it fuels their creativity and innovation.

The above-mentioned Censuswide survey also reveals that employees find business travel professionally rewarding. When respondents were asked whether they would agree or disagree with the following statement, “My job doesn’t give me as much enjoyment now that I can’t travel for business or business travel is limited,” a majority (64%) somewhat or strongly agreed.

On top of that, 40% said they were suffering a lack of motivation at work related to lack of business travel and 36% cited a lack of productivity.

It has a direct impact on a country’s economic growth

A new study from Harvard has found a direct link – not just a correlation, but causation – between a country’s incoming business travel and its economic growth. For the study, researchers used data from a payment provider and debit cards to track business travel from 2011 to 2016. It found that the more business travelers a country received, the better its industrial ventures fared and the higher its gross domestic product (GPD) soared.

The team also created an interactive visualization that shows the effects of curbing business travel from any given country – including which other countries would be most impacted and how the global GDP would change. For example, if German business travelers stopped traveling, Austria, South Africa, Switzerland, Nigeria, Czechia, and Turkey would be most affected and the global GDP would drop 4.8%.

The study’s authors attribute this link to the movement of “know-how” – the tacit knowledge accumulated and transferred from brain to brain through a process of imitation, repetition, and feedback. This type of knowledge cannot be written in a book, expressed in email, or communicated in a virtual meeting. It must be picked up from others by working alongside them. To move know-how, the researchers said, you must move brains (i.e., bring people physically together).

“According to our study, the world is benefiting enormously by mobilizing the know-how in brains through business travel. A permanent shutdown of this channel would probably imply a double-digit loss in global GDP,” Ricardo Hausmann, director of Harvard’s Growth Lab, said in a statement.

While the researchers did not investigate how the companies who are sending business travelers abroad also benefited from this transfer of know-how, the study does demonstrate the value of colleagues working side by side and how intracompany meetings can raise the collective brainpower of an organization.

Sounds like an essential type of meeting to us…

It’s a powerful way to cement relationships and deals

As we pointed out in another Atlas article, building relationships and closing sales deals through video calls can be challenging for multiple reasons. According to a report by Globetrender, 60% of business travelers say most agreements and decisions cannot be made virtually.

It’s simply difficult to create a human-to-human connection through a 20-inch screen. The actual delivery of a pitch is trickier via video too. As Chris Pash of AdNews said, you can’t just walk in, read the room, and adjust the content and style to match the body language and expressions of the prospective client.

But it is not just the message conveyed in a handshake (or elbow bump) and eye contact that makes in-person meetings more effective. It proves to a business partner or potential customer just how far you’ll go to earn their business – that you’re willing to fly across the country or world to be there in their physical presence.

As United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby expressed during a Politico event, fears that videoconferencing tools will permanently replace business travel are exaggerated – such tech is no substitute for face-to-face connections.

“At the beginning,” Kirby said, “people will try and stick to doing things virtually, but the first time a business loses a sale to a competitor who showed up in person and who took the team for dinner and got to know them better would be the last time they would do that. They will get back on the road and double down on getting back on the road.”

It helps create better employees and better human beings

There are many intangible benefits of business travel that cannot be easily measured through a scientific study – for instance, it can sharpen an employee’s soft skills.

Encountering other cultures and dealing with the stressors of travel can help employees learn how to adapt to new situations, be more flexible, and hone their communication and interpersonal skills. Being in a new environment that is different from their own can also help build their patience, confidence, and self-awareness.

We often say travel is a force for good. It has the ability to unify communities and break down barriers between people. Meeting people from different countries and seeing firsthand how other cultures live can broaden our minds and perspectives.

From the past year, we’ve seen how working from home can be an isolating experience, keeping us in a bubble. No matter how many news articles and videos we view online about what’s happening in other parts of the planet, only when we are engulfed in a new culture and experience it with own eyes do we fully understand it. Through travel, many of us have come to discover that, despite our differences, we humans are more alike than we realize. What’s more, our differences need to be embraced and valued for us humans to evolve for the better.

It’s like what Mark Twain said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” For that reason alone, we need to get back to traveling.