There are two sides to the business travel incentive coin: incentives and rewards.
On the incentive side, people need a reason to travel. That has taken several forms, such as conferences and events, sales calls, on-site consulting and internal team meetings. Those factors were enough to fuel the lucrative business travel market, which helped support the entire economic model for hotels, airlines and rental cars.
But as we saw in our introduction, most business travelers expect to be on the road much less. What will the new drivers be in our much more hybrid world of work?
First, to paraphrase urban theorist Joel Kotkin (interviewed in a previous issue), never underestimate the power of inertia. Conferences and events will be back. But if more workers are hybrid moving forward, there might be fewer reasons to hit the road. Instead of “fly in for a meeting” or “spend four days a week consulting at a client,” we might see more intentional meetings for specific collaboration.
Moreover, corporations have seen cost savings associated with reduced travel in the past year. Of course, in-person businesses like services and manufacturing will likely want to resume face-to-face sales calls and support.
On the rewards side, we know from The Points Guy that the points economy is huge business for financial services and business travelers. Financial services were quick to pivot their reward structures to non-travel rewards like bonus points for grocery and streaming services. Meanwhile, airlines like Delta mortgaged their mileage programs to stay afloat. However, all of those levers can be quickly reset.
In the short term, we’ll likely see less travel overall, with an opposing force of people wanting to make use of their status while they still have it. Put simply, people aren’t going to like losing the status and perks they have built up over years of business travel. Those perks make work travel marginally better and certainly help on personal leisure travel, too.
Of all the disrupted and accelerated trends of the pandemic, hybrid work is likely here to stay. A one-size-fits-all approach to office requirements will be replaced by flexibility in time spent on-site, and in space itself. Likewise, how people build points and cash in those rewards will also need to reflect the new realities of the business traveler experience.