The most dire of pandemic predictions once imagined that business travel would take years to return, if it ever would at all, especially with the rapid rise and ease of videoconferencing. But as the number of business trips surged this past year — with an 875% boost in bookings in the last year, according to TripActions — it’s clear that business travel is back, even if it looks somewhat different than before.

Many leaders still find more value in connecting face-to-face than screen-to-screen. According to a recent survey by Morning Consult, more than 80% of employed Americans believed in-person interaction was important for a company’s success.

“While the pandemic changed many things about work and life, it didn’t change how much people value being together,” says Tandra Jackson, Vice Chair of Growth and Strategy at KPMG U.S. “Purposeful collaboration continues to be a catalyst for innovation and connection, and business travel draws together people who work and live in different cities, states, and countries.”

What has changed is how business travel gets done based on the new cultural paradigm. By putting together thoughtful business travel strategies based on evolving trends and cultural considerations, leaders can be better prepared for the road (and skies) ahead.

The Rise of the “Bleisure” Trip

Remote work has enabled the rise of the “bleisure” traveler — one who combines business trips with leisure, by either tacking on a few days at the end of a trip, or working from what might have previously been a vacation-only destination. Encouraging these kinds of trips, whether informally or as part of official company policy, can boost employee morale. One survey found that bleisure travelers reported a higher quality-of-life satisfaction when compared to more conventional business travelers.

Executives themselves are also making the most of this trend by fitting some family time into their business trips. “Once a year, I’ll take one of my three daughters with me on a trip, and my mother or my au pair will meet me in the city,” says Meagen Eisenberg, CMO of TripActions. “I'll work during the day, and they’ll explore the city, and then I’ll meet them at night.” Especially for someone who’s on the road frequently, these kind of trips can help foster family connection and work-life balance.

The move to enjoy more of a destination has become part of the larger trend of people prioritizing their well-being, even in business settings.

“Pre-pandemic, business trips were predominantly about getting work done,” says Jackson. “I now find myself, my firm, and my colleagues increasingly creating opportunities for relaxation and leisure throughout the experience.”

The Supercommuter

While the road warriors of yesterday were more likely to be executives heading to a board meeting or a sales lead traveling to meet and greet clients, today’s business travelers are more likely to come from all departments. As remote work has proliferated, more employees now need to occasionally travel “back to base,” to an HQ or office, whether that’s quarterly or monthly.

When compared to pre-pandemic data, engineering departments made up only 7% of all business travel pre-pandemic, but they now make up 12%, according to booking data. Marketing and product teams also have seen similar percentage jumps. In fact, TripActions reported that the average number of travelers per company per month has increased by 57% compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Facilitating in-person meetups across departments can help build and maintain employee culture, which is an ever-present need in the Great Resignation era. “There’s less loyalty in remote,” says Eisenberg. She herself regularly travels across TripActions’s global offices in order to get face-time with her teams, which she finds incredibly important in order to build relationships and camaraderie.

For organizations that have downsized or ditched the office, larger corporate retreats have been another emerging way to get teams together. In January, the CEO of software company Teampay opened up their leadership meeting in Mexico City to all employees, covering travel, meals, and hotels for a week. About a fourth of the company took the CEO up on it, gathering in a local WeWork, and leaders now plan to do a similar get-together semiannually or quarterly to maintain the positive momentum.

Consider Employee Comfort

Even though many business travelers are already back on the road, it’s still important to understand that not all employees may be comfortable with traveling for work — especially as new Covid variants continue to challenge a complete pandemic recovery. Leaders should be intentional about how they structure their in-person meetings and how to make them accessible to all, especially if they require multiday trips.

“Team needs should drive the purpose behind business travel,” says Jackson. “Whether people are learning, teaming, or networking, each situation is unique and one size will not fit all. Leaders should consider where in-person collaboration makes the most sense to achieve their goals.”

Just as in the pre-pandemic past, in-person engagements will continue to be a large and growing part of corporate and client success. By making the most out of these evolving work trips, leaders can successfully navigate the next generation of business travel for themselves and their teams.

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