Friday, May 09, 2014

The Decline of Business Travel & A Model To Replace It

I never enjoyed traveling during my career in community marketing, ironically a purpose of which is to attract and serve travelers.  This distaste earned me credibility with more than one mayor in the cities I served because they knew I wasn’t in it for the travel.

Of course, I’m talking about the ever shrinking proportion of travel that is business travel including attending conventions and meetings, now down to 1-in-5 visitor-stays in the U.S overall, less than 1-in-3 to Durham, North Carolina my last post before retiring.

A new study detailing the stressors of business travel trumps one a few years ago estimating that without business trips for face-to-face meetings, 28% of revenue would be lost to competitors, but at what cost?

This new study sheds light on why business travel has been in decline across all sectors for several decades.  It’s the human cost.Travel Stressors  Later I will discuss an alternative view of logistics.

Unfortunately, too many people go into community destination marketing for the excitement of travel only to learn it revolves around skills such as critical thinking, creativity and innovation, community reputation management, shaping and preserving sense of place and highly selective use of low-intensity marketing.

Not liking travel during my career, especially business travel, made me ultra sensitive to the stressors it imposes on people and more empathetic to ways that destinations can help relieve them.

The study measure 33 different stressors, broken down by gender and placed in 3 categories, lost time (e.g. cramped flights, difficulty connecting to the internet etc.), surprises (e.g. lost baggage, delays etc.), routine breakers (weekend travel, changes quality of life etc.)

The study is of international travelers and focused mostly not on what happens at the destination, which has its owns set of stressors, but travel to and from and at the hotel.  These are things mostly unrelated to the destination that is motivating the travel.

Nor are they the only reasons business travel has been in long term decline but they have ramification for leisure travel as well.

The top four stressors are lost or delayed baggage, poor or no internet connection, flying economy and delays.

Each of the stressors take more of a toll on female travelers, now a huge portion of business travelers.  It isn’t because they are higher maintenance, as evidenced by the fact that they are less stressed by flying economy.

Maybe explaining my aversion during my career, business travel takes a higher toll on senior executives, particularly those involving loss of time.  Frequent travel doesn’t offer immunity to stressors.

The study, conducted by researchers in France, also ventures some ways to relieve these stressors.  But I am more convinced that as rapidly as technological alternatives are evolving, in short time the only ones traveling for business will be hyper-extroverts in search of an energy fix.

Much of what has been shriveling business travel is its inefficiency, nearly all of that self-inflicted by business models.

One area of business travel primed for major disruption is those driving freight trucks.  This includes more than 2.7 million drivers in the U.S. alone in 2012 and disruption would not just be from autonomous vehicles.

Many of the research papers generated at CIRRELT, a unique combination dedicated to the integration of transportation research and network design, are supported by several universities in Montreal, Canada.

Dr. Benoit Montreuil has proposed a much more efficient approach to trucking that would better utilize the 535,000 warehouses and distribution centers in the U.S. as though they were part of a physical internet.

A algorithm-driven hub and spoke system would get long haul shipments to their destination in a quarter of the current time at lower cost while reducing harmful emissions, increasing load factors from the current 60%, optimizing warehouse use and employing more drivers who would each drive only six hours or less round-trip.  That means they could be home each night.

This approach would minimize the stressors that come with driving a truck to family life, social life and personal health.  Fatigue is found a factor in 58% of accidents.

Soon, I suspect all logistics will mimic the internet, the development of which was funded by the U.S. government to insulate communication logistics from disruption during times of attack.

Corporations are now fighting transformation of the energy grid and elsewhere because along with more secure, lower cost deliveries comes lower margins and less control for private profit.

All of this is meant to suggest that those still reliant on business travel are better advised to stop digging in their heels in hopes of slowing the inevitable and begin exploring new ways of replacing it.

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