Video killed the radio star, but is video conferencing killing the business deal?

Virtual handshake

"Virtual meetings aren’t adequate replacements for the time-tested handshake"

It’s a common refrain when businesses are looking to justify a cut in the travel budget: why spend on physical travel when we can meet with the same people using conferencing technology?

At first glance, replacing corporate travel with virtual meetings makes sense. The financial cost evaporates, the stress involved with travel disappears, and the ever-present risk associated with overseas travel is no more.

Providers like UberConference, Google Hangouts, Cisco and Skype offer a range of increasingly sophisticated and user-friendly options, and platforms like Zoom can be accessed on multiple devices and offer real-time screen shares and annotations. In fact, web conferencing technology is predicted to be worth $3.6 billion USD by 2020.

Virtual meetings are cheap, safe and efficient. But first impressions aren’t always the whole story. Here’s four reasons why business can’t afford to put all their eggs in the virtual basket and abandon corporate travel.

Profits And Lead Conversion

A study by the US Travel Association found that the return on investment of corporate travel has been estimated at between US$10 and US$14.99 per dollar invested, with travel to customer meetings, conferences and trade shows proving the most effective ways to get your money’s worth when travelling.

And a business that abandons its corporate travel program would suffer a 17% drop in profits within the first year. The same Oxford Economics report also estimated that 40% of executives say leads are converted into customers through in-person meetings. That conversion rate drops by more than half, down to just 16%, without that personal meeting.

Business Trips Convey Respect

There’s an old saying that goes along the lines of ‘you get out what you put in’. If a potential client flies around the world to meet with you, you immediately understand their commitment to the relationship.

As any corporate traveller who’s endured a 15-hour flight followed by a 9-hour layover will attest, business trips aren’t all glitz and glamour. In fact, they can be stressful and mentally, emotionally and physically draining.

So making the effort for the benefit of the relationship demonstrates the kind of respect, dedication and professionalism that earns trust and reciprocity.

Good Thinking ‘99

Notwithstanding the potential downsides, corporate travel can benefit employees as much as the business. Returning business travellers have been shown to drive innovative thinking, fuelled by exposure to new ideas and fresh perspectives.

The networking element of corporate travel can also prove positive. Airlines offering services like ‘Meet & Seat’, allowing business passengers to link their seat numbers to their social media profiles, recognise the valuable networking opportunities flights alone can provide.

Communication Is Not Verbal

Most of the way people interact has little to do with what is actually said. As such, allowing for improvements in the video streaming abilities of virtual conferencing platforms, Zoom, Skype and GoToMeeting cannot substitute being there.

Corporate travel programs continue to be a first port of call for cost cutting, despite the fact that corporate travel is good for business and virtual meetings aren’t adequate replacements for the time-tested handshake.

Rather than cut from the travel budget, business leaders should look for smarter ways to manage their travel money. After all, there’s still no substitute for face-to-face interaction.


About the author

David Fastuca is the CMO and co-founder of Travelport Locomote, a corporate travel management platform.