By Jenny Southan, Editor and Founder of Globetrender

Please note that the information below is Globetrender’s own and American Express Global Business Travel makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, with respect to any information contained here.

One of the big questions hanging over the industry is: Will videoconferencing replace business travel now that everyone has been forced to embrace it and can acknowledge its benefits? The simple answer is no.

In fact, while technology from Zoom and competing companies such as Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans, and Google Hangouts will remain a core part of the way companies operate in the COVID world and beyond, its main use will be for internal meetings and as a replacement for face-to-face communication within offices as remote working takes over.

Video calls as people began working from home haven’t been what has prevented business travel from occurring – it has been travel bans. As data from our survey of Business Traveller readers revealed, there has been a 55% increase in business travel since lockdown restrictions eased, and by the end of 2020, almost half of business travelers expect to be back on the road again, with another 37% expecting to be traveling in 2021.

What’s holding them back right now? Quarantines are a big hurdle. According to our survey, 91% would be less likely to travel if they had to self-isolate for a period at their destination.

Andrew Crawley, chief commercial officer for American Express Global Business Travel, says: “The inability to travel freely has reinforced the value of meeting in person. Videoconferencing has been very useful, but we have all been operating in a diminished state. Many of our clients have talked about how video technology has helped them ‘get by,’ but serious companies and organizations don’t want to just ‘get by.’ To build a positive culture, to develop bonds and relationships, to cultivate creativity and inspire people, we need to meet face-to-face.”

With huge pent-up demand for business travel – combined with the fact that 76% of frequent flyers surveyed by Business Traveller agree that being face-to-face with clients is preferable to remote working for sales meetings and pitching – flight bookings will begin to resurge. However, due to the increased risk to health and safety, and the fact that travel budgets for many companies will have been reduced, facetime with clients will need to be optimized.

There will need to be a clear return on investment for all trips undertaken. With less spending on team meetings, some companies will have more budget available for sales trips, which will be critical for rebuilding balance sheets. According to our survey, 60% of business travelers believe that the majority of deals and decisions can’t be made virtually, which suggests that there will be a rush to meet with clients and “green light” projects as soon as it becomes possible to do so.

“Zoom fatigue” (a condition that relates to mental exhaustion from too much videoconferencing) is real, after all, and if anything, will be whetting people’s appetite for sitting around a real-life table. Even if it means wearing a face mask and not shaking hands.

For more trends, data, interviews, and analysis, download Globetrender’s free report on the Future of Business Travel, sponsored by American Express Global Business Travel.