Business travelers are flying less. Teleconferencing is on the rise, as is the use of Web conferencing services such as GoToMeeting and WebEx as companies attempt to save money.
Newell Rubbermaid, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, cut its travel budget by 28% last year, and encourages employees to use videoconferencing instead of flying somewhere, and other US companies have cut travel 30-40%, estimates American Express Business Travel.
But as Ryan Bingham's boss discovers in the 2009 hit movie Up in the Air, some business missions are better accomplished in person (if you haven't seen the film, Bingham's job is to fire people for companies too chicken to do it themselves, and his boss decides that this can best be done via teleconferencing but later discovers that this isn't such a hot idea).
I, too, have found that if you really want to get something done, you have to do it in person. For example, I've been trying for years to gain the attention of an influential journalist who hadn't written about Airfarewatchdog.com. I had emailed this person, and sent media kits, and left messages, all to no avail. So I tried visiting in person and having a lunch. Yes, it cost money and time, but it was well worth the effort. A week later, the visit had accomplished its purpose.
How many careers have been launched at trade shows? What's the value of taking the measure of a potential business partner face-to-face rather than over the phone?
At Airfarewatchdog, we used to deal with our software programmers by email, instant message, and phone, in order to save costs. But I'm convinced that we wasted a lot of money, because our requests were often misunderstood, and it took more time doing it this way than sitting down with the programmers and literally drawing them a picture to get the enhancements done quickly and coherently. (Our programmers were based in Boise, and we are in New York, so travel would have been costly and time consuming, but given the chance to do it all over again, I would make the effort.)
When I was a freelance travel writer living in Boston, I tried in vain, by phone and email, to get assignments from magazines such as Travel and Leisure, based in New York. But once I started making desk appointments and meeting editors face to face, I never left without an article to write. Face to face works better than the alternatives.
My sincere belief is that although some business trips are unnecessary and some are fruitless, more revenue is being left on the table by ill-advised cuts in corporate travel budgets than is being saved by bean counters who encourage workers to stay home. This is a point made by British Airways, in their Face-to-Face campaign, which awarded 10 business class tickets to 100 companies in a recent contest, so that they could see first hand the benefits of a handshake.
If you make the effort to meet someone face to face, it speaks volumes, especially if, as is more and more the case, your competition is staying home.