Writer: Felipe Rivas
2 min read June 2021 — The adoption of remote work has been one of the major silver linings stemming from the COVID-related disruption. Platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom were instrumental in keeping companies afloat and the workforce employed amid the pandemic changes. Business meetings are now happening in kitchens, spare bedrooms and home offices as the corporate world continues to adapt and innovate in the face of the ongoing pandemic. However, as vaccine rates increase and unemployment rates stabilize, the return of business travel is not a matter of how but when. We asked business leaders across the North Carolina business community what the future of business travel may look like for their operations and industries. Here are their responses.
Steve Hepler, Raleigh Office Leader, LS3P
An increasing number of our clients are coming back to allow in-person meetings as long as you don’t try to put 20 people in an eight-person conference room. As long as safe distancing is observed, meetings are being held. People are coming back to the reality and the normalcy of meeting in person. We don’t have any restrictions on traveling between states. We used to have a self-quarantine policy that if you went outside of the Carolinas and Georgia regions and came back, you were to self-quarantine before you came back to the office but that has been lifted. Some of the restrictions that were a high priority last year are now being lifted as we go forward with air travel. Last year, business travel dipped to zero but as we got toward the end of 2020, I would say it showed a 10 to 15 percent increase. Spring this year was higher, within a 50 percent increase. We anticipate it will get back to normal in the summer of 2021.
Jon Rufty, Owner & President, Rufty Homes
We see travel starting to come back midyear and I think that will continue to increase. I don’t think you’ll be back to what it was pre-COVID in the foreseeable future but everybody has been locked up and when you do business, doing business face-to-face is important as far as being in person and shaking someone’s hand and being in front of them. In a lot of ways, Zoom has just worn a lot of people out because when you’re constantly on Zoom you have a detached type of feeling. We did not travel last year so this year we’ll be doing 100% more for sure.
Stuart Goldstein, Managing Partner, Charlotte Office, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP
We were all taken by surprise by how quickly we all adjusted to virtual meetings and how well Zoom technology has met our needs to stay connected with our clients and our teams. And, yes, we’ve all met our clients’ and colleagues’ young children and pets, and I think some of those “interactions” really helped break the ice and added some reality in what was a tense period for everyone. So Zoom is here to stay, and I would expect that this technology will get even better in the months and years to come.
But we, like many others, are in a client service business. If our clients need to see us or if we think it is best for our clients for everyone to brainstorm in a room together, that is exactly what we will do. Business travel will come back but, like anything else, it will change. Client relationships are built on trust and confidence, and there really is no substitute for in-person interactions.
Christopher Chung, CEO, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina
Our office was closed from about March 2020 until about mid-June, when we opened on an optional basis. Business travel has been very limited outside of North Carolina. Typically, at least half of our travel in a normal year is inside the state. The out-of-state international travel has fallen by the wayside because usually this will be done to attend industry trade shows and conferences, which are not currently running. Many companies are still reluctant to allow visitors on their premises, so we can’t travel to promote North Carolina among those businesses. A little of that is starting to come back with some domestic trade shows returning, so this will provide some opportunities for this type of travel to resume. It will probably be a while before international travel resumes.
Haley Gentry, Acting Aviation Director, Charlotte Douglas International Airport
We’re learning to live a little more comfortably with uncertainty. It will probably be two to two and a half years before we’re at 2019 numbers again, barring any other unforeseen events. The one difference that we’re going to see as we move forward is how business travelers respond. The business traveler will remain a wild card for the foreseeable future. It’s one of the things that keeps us from going right back to those numbers that we had before. Time will tell what that looks like.
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