Trips that offer a 'human connection' will replace typical business travel as workers spread across the US — but graduates could be marginalized, experts say

Trips that offer a 'human connection' will replace typical business travel as workers spread across the US — but graduates could be marginalized, experts say
Business travel is a fraction of pre-pandemic rates, and will be different when it returns.Savanna Durr/Insider
  • Companies are dispersing their employees while cutting down on business travel.
  • Younger workers, keenest to travel, are likely to miss out on the chance to travel with work.

The "new normal" is quickly coming into focus as major companies make permanent adjustments to how they do business, with a fluid workforce and high costs encouraging unprecedented flexibility.

Airbnb is letting employees choose where they work in a growing migration away from fixed workplaces. Meanwhile, consultancies like BCG and McKinsey are focusing on other perks to retain employees.

Now, firms are left wondering how they maintain a connection among their employees and increase incentives to stay, particularly for younger workers.

Some companies are reluctant to return to old travel habits

The impacts of the pandemic continue to make travel uncertain. According to data from the Bureau for Transport Statistics, total passenger enplanements in January 2022 were 19% below rates for January 2020. But while loosened restrictions and holiday bookings are helping leisure rebound, business travel is proving more stubborn.

A study by Deloitte shows pre-pandemic rates of business travel continue to be elusive, particularly for those industries that have successfully transitioned to a home-based work model. Spend is forecast to be just 55% of pre-pandemic rates by 2023. Jason Greaves, brand leader at recruitment company Manpower, said money spent on upgrading homeworking capabilities made companies reluctant to put employees back on the road.


Despite data by job site Indeed suggesting business travel is greater than before the pandemic — the share of jobs on the website requiring travel was 8.5% in April, compared with 7.7% in February 2020 — Nick Bunker, head of research for North America at Indeed, told Insider this wasn't due to more companies offering it. Instead, it was because jobs not requiring travel were taking longer to return.

'High-value' trips mean younger workers could lose out

Mike Daher, leader of the transportation, hospitality and services sector at Deloitte, told Insider that "work-from-home dominant companies" — those spending less than three days a week in the office — were half as likely to return to travel as those spending more time in the office.

Daher said that while he expected business travel to bounce back eventually, the calculation employers make on the value placed on those trips will likely change for good.

High value, Daher said, would be placed on conferences, typically attended by more senior staff.

He said that calculation means trips for younger workers, like training and leadership meetups, are likely to be seen as unnecessary.


"I think companies are looking again for a way to bring folks together in a very high-value type of way versus that routine travel," Daher said. "I don't anticipate routine travel meetings being viewed as critical."

These younger workers are typically those keenest on business travel, and Daher said high labor turnover in the face of the Great Resignation meant companies may be forced to sacrifice some extra cost to entice them to join and stay.

"Companies are understanding they need to bring their less-tenured colleagues together more for that connectivity," he said.

Finding a 'human connection' with freed up budgets

That connection is driving optimism that business travel will return, but in different ways. Avi Meir, CEO of business travel unicorn TravelPerk, which was valued at $1.3 billion in March, said travel among his clients continues to rise.

He told Insider that bookings by the business's clients were 13% higher than before the pandemic. Indeed, he said under-35s made up 46% of those travel bookings.


He argued the definition of business travel had changed, with tech clients whose employees were spread across a region traveling infrequently to the office for "human connection" and bonding exercises.

Meir said a falling office budget among clients had freed up space to expense more of these trips, as did the need to incentivize young, in-demand workers to stick around.

"Business travel is an obvious human need. I know that people need this human connection," Meir said.

He hopes the urge for this "human connection" will make other obstacles surmountable.