One of the trends that’s really accelerated during the current crisis is the use of online videoconferencing – whether Zoom, Webex, Google, Skype or any number of other solutions.
A lot of meetings used to take place in-person, which is high cost, everyone had to coordinate being in the same place.
One of the reasons for that, certainly, is that in-person communication is more focal. People pay greater attention, instead of tuning out during a multi-person meeting and checking their email or refreshing updates to find out when the new Microsoft Flight Simulator will be coming out.
Another reason in-person meetings have greater value is they’re better for building social bonds, in part because we can read non-verbal cues. Seeing someone physically close to you, seeing more than their face, being ‘present’ and in 3D is more ‘real’ and more emotional rather than merely transactional.
Nonetheless not every meeting that was held in person needs to be. We were anchored to it because of switching costs. Everyone has to adopt new technology to meet virtually. That was happening slowly, but the current crisis accelerated it. Since there’s no in-person option now, even the holdouts had to become willing to use Zoom.
And that’s one reason why people may be expected to have fewer in-person meetings going forward – the technology has been adopted. That cost has already been paid. We’ve overcome resistance. It’ll be easier to do virtual meetings in the future.
But could the ability to do meetings virtually mean more travel, rather than less travel?
Some trips don’t happen because of important meetings in the office. You don’t go on the road because you need to be on site. And you don’t take personal trips because you need to be present at work, too. But if we’re now more accepting of virtual meetings, you do not need to be home, or in the office, to attend meetings.
You can take a trip abroad and still connect in to the meetings, freeing us from being anchored locally.
It’s unclear of course which of these effects will be greater, so whether travel overall will grow or contract as a result of changes in technological adoption. My guess is:
- Adoption of conferencing technology means more location independence
- That means more travel
- However there’s less travel that will be truly mission-critical
- So fewer high fare business tickets, where a business will pay whatever the airline asks
In other words we’ll see more travel, but it will be cheaper travel. And in the longer run the coming (return) of supersonic will mean lower costs in terms of time to get somewhere and that will serve travel well in the long run.
Most discussions about lower airfare prices center around supply issues – airlines trying to fill empty seats. I’m positive that lower airfares may also result from changes in price elasticity of demand, something that Scott Kirby didn’t used to think existed.
How do you expect greater adoption of videoconferencing will affect your travel in the future?