Should International Business Travel Be Replaced by Virtual Meetings?

As we all know, the ways we work today have evolved drastically thanks to changes in our digital landscape and the ripple effect of the global health crisis. Despite it all, international business travel is still necessary to build rapport, strengthen relationships, and provide accountability for leaders in all industries.

Since the early aughts, the internet has slowly but surely created a global community and workforce, essentially shrinking the once-vast planet into a more easily accessible arena. And with the growth of international business came the growth of international travel. In 2019, global business travel spending was at $1.4 trillion. However, as the whole world watched, 2020 unfolded and we learned that the global community that we’ve grown accustomed to — business, commerce, travel, relationships, adventure, and so much more — is vulnerable to another global condition: a pandemic.

Over the last two years, businesses adapted and innovated like never before, in large part due to our previously established ingenuity with the world wide web. Working from home became the norm, and international conferences and meetings were being held online. The ways in which we work have forever been altered over the last few years, and while we’ve learned that there are certainly some old systems that we don’t need to return to, international business travel will always be essential for any successful global enterprise.

In no uncertain terms, international business travel is absolutely necessary for multinational organizations to build rapport, foster strong relationships, and provide accountability for teams. Here’s why.

Virtual meetings are great but…

While Zoom and other online meeting platforms have afforded many companies the opportunity to meet virtually, there truly is nothing quite like an in-person meeting. Virtual meetings lack the warmth and personal connection that a face-to-face meeting has. There’s no way around that.

With estimates that roughly 90% of communication is done non-verbally, many messages and layers of thorough communication get lost in a virtual environment. Messages are harder (if not impossible) to accurately interpret over a screen, which can lead to missed connections, a lack of creativity in collaboration, and a disjointed human experience.

What’s more, “Zoom fatigue” is affecting many industries as well. Zoom fatigue is burnout from online and virtual meetings that occurs due to the unnatural nature of meeting digitally. With the distracting ability to see ourselves talk and limited mobility, cognitive overload has become all-too-common. But there’s a cure for this.

Trust and rapport are built in person

Humans are innately social creatures. Meeting people in the flesh fulfills our need for social connection and allows for more natural and authentic interactions. While the return to business travel is slower than originally anticipated, much of the workforce is ready for it.

People are tired of sitting at home or in the office and only connecting with others online; they’re excited to meet face-to-face again. There’s nothing quite like shaking someone’s hand and looking them directly in the eye to help establish trust and build rapport. Meeting with clients, co-workers, and business partners in person creates a more intimate environment that caters to authentic and empathetic connections — which simply cannot be 100% replicated in an online setting.

And that’s exactly where an international business trip can make such a difference. A handshake in person goes a lot farther than a smile and a nod on a screen.

Travel won’t be the same as before

International business travel is here to stay. With that in mind, it’s important to understand and be prepared for the changes ahead. There will always be flight delays and travel restrictions are not going anywhere anytime soon. One thing that you can control is to travel prepared. If you’re traveling internationally, for instance, exchanging currency before leaving the country not only saves you money, but valuable time as well.

“What makes having foreign money and knowing currency exchange options so crucial to business travelers? All it takes is one trip without foreign cash to understand why you want at least a little on hand,” says MJ Vogel, marketing director for Xchange of America. “It’s nearly impossible to pay for a taxi or buy something at certain stores without local money. Not every vendor accepts credit cards or tap-and-pay features.”

We have the internet and the pandemic to thank for the dramatic changes in the ways in which we work, but no matter how technologically advanced and adept we may become, one thing will never be replicated or replaced by computers: face-to-face connections. So plan ahead, come prepared, and get ready to start collecting those passport stamps again.

Written by Rhett Power.
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