We may well get tired of reading about the consequences of COVID-19, for the travel industry and, for that matter, for all of our lives, but the question remains – to what extent will it change things?
I, as much as anyone else, wish I had that proverbial crystal ball that could tell me exactly when international corporate travel will normalise again. Unfortunately, I don’t and with such fluctuations in the tide of events surrounding the pandemic all I can do is make some predictions of more or less how I think things will roll out.
At the outset, to those who are saying business travel will never be the same again, I say “I think you’re wrong” – and I have my reasons for that.
The doom and gloom
Yes, I admit the forecast for a return to business travel as it was has a lot of key industry players frankly very depressed – especially as the onslaught of second waves of the pandemic have resulted in a substantial portion of the UK and European countries entering lock-down once again.
This makes international travel, even for important business, to many countries impossible for now, so we are looking at another flat quarter for Q1 of 2021 as far as I can foresee.
On the bright side
As an eternal optimist you will always find that my ‘bright side’ section is larger than the ‘gloom and doom,’ but there’s a foundation to my fantasy. For however long it takes, I hold a firm belief that international business travel and face to face meetings are, and always will be, an essential part of doing business in the corporate world – or even for the budding Entrepreneur.
Why is this so? Let’s look at a few reasons ….
Foreign-based partners and parents
Many South African businesses are off-shoots or partners of foreign businesses. To assume you can run your business effectively without really knowing the parent company is folly.
Foreign training and seminars
For many SA based businesses, being part of a foreign parent gave you, as an employee the chance to attend the biggest events – these typically being training, conferences, trade shows, seminars etc. One can say that these can happen online – but tell that to a fashion buyer who needs to feel the fabric, or a machine operator who hates reading manuals.
Many businesses placed travel as a perk of employment. The chance to explore the world and do business at the same time is an attractive proposition for young ambitious people with the wanderlust that is in all of our blood.
Business is built on relationships
Finally, but on a most emphatic note, doing business is based on building relationships. Building relationships requires trust – and trust is something that not only comes from a track record but that vital ‘gut feeling’ you get when you meet someone.
Whether we like it, or agree with it or not, most “objective’ business decisions we make are based on our instinctual feeling about the person with whom we are liaising. The body language of a person speaks volumes about their sincerity, genuine interest in you and your product and whether they are someone with whom you would like to build a long term relationship.
Make it count
What will change, however, are possibly the safety protocols of international travel (which I believe can only be a good thing) and that every decision to take that business trip will be more calculated. Now it will be a case of making sure every business strip counts – every time.
I do believe the flame of the candle we all hold to conduct ‘face to face’ interaction will, at least for a while, wane as a result of this pandemic, but with our passion to conduct international business it will never be entirely extinguished.LIDIA FOLLI
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER