"You are never going to see the volume of business travel that you've seen in the past," former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall recently told The Wall Street Journal, predicting that business travel will fall by one-third to one-half even after the pandemic is over.
That's alarming news for airlines that depend on business travelers to turn a profit. "Everybody who depends on business travel is going to have to rethink their game plan," Crandall acknowledged.
But is it bad news for the average entrepreneur or professional not directly financially impacted by a fall off in business trips? A deeper look at the future of post-pandemic travel doesn't sound bad at all actually.
Fewer road warriors, more digital nomads
If you are one of those rare birds who relishes the life of the road warrior, you can stop reading now. You're not going to be happy with the predictions some of the biggest names in the industry are making. But if you found traveling for work to be a grind before, then you just might love travel after Covid.
Airbnb was forced to lay off 25 percent of its staff in May because of the virus, but the company is already bouncing back and is filing for an IPO this year. As CEO Brian Chesky explained to Business Insider, there are reasons the company is expecting the happy news to continue. While business travel will continue to crater, Chesky predicts our appetite for getting offline and out in the real world will shoot up after the virus is under control.
"We used to do a lot of travel for work, and then we entertained ourselves on screens. That's going to inverse," Chesky told BI. "I think we'll work more on screens and entertain ourselves in the real world."
Which sounds pretty amazing to me. As does another of Chesky's predictions. Not only will we spend more time enjoying the real world after our months (hopefully not years) stuck at home, many of us will also be unshackled from the office thanks to widespread remote work. The result will be more people exploring the world as digital nomads. Several countries are already trying to attract remote workers for extended stays with new longer-term visas, but even just hopping between various U.S. cities may become more common.
Finally, navigating airports may become less horrible thanks to investments in technology made during the pandemic.
"Facial-recognition systems for everything from checking bags to passport control are likely to become far more widely adopted to reduce person-to-person contact. Security, passport, and customs lines themselves may get redesigned. Video links may enable processing of international passengers before they depart," predicts the same WSJ article.
So, just to recap, that all adds up to less soulless business travel, more fun trips, a healthier balance between on- and offline leisure, and a smoother airport experience. It's horribly sad that it took a pandemic to make this vision possible, but it doesn't sound bad at all from the traveler's perspective.
From the perspective of entrepreneurs, the future of travel is more of a challenge and an opportunity. How could your business take advantage of a radically changed travel landscape?