Business Travel Isn’t Dead, Says AmEx. But It’s Changing Forever

It’s pretty tough, one year deep into the global pandemic, to put a sunny face on the future of business travel. But for the people at American Express, the future of corporate travel looks … sort of fun?

There’ll be fewer transatlantic slogs for routine meetings, but more teambuilding exercises in sunny climes. Plus, just maybe, there’ll be more company-sponsored stints of telecommuting from the beach.

That’s the scenario presented by Evan Konwiser, the executive vice president of product and strategy for American Express Global Business Travel. Granted, he’s offering a measured upside case for one of the areas hardest hit by Covid-19 lockdowns.

Restaurants and retail, which also suffered, are finding ways to keep doing business. Leisure travel, too, looks likely to benefit from pent-up demand and looser border restrictions. But now that workers around the globe have shown they can conduct a year’s worth of business by video, the sleeper-class flight for a morning meeting in London just became a much harder sell.

“It’s become very trendy to talk about business travel not needing to come back,” Konwiser says, via Zoom, from his office in lower Manhattan. “There’s some truth there that we should acknowledge and adapt to,” he continues, before adding: “But business travel exists for really important reasons—it helps businesses conduct business successfully.”

What he predicts is a re-envisioning of business travel that prioritizes experiential meetings—in-person bonding opportunities for scattered remote workers and trips that feel more like work perks than obligations. And he says there’s precedent for a strong rebound.

“After the global financial crisis in 2008, CEOs, CFOs, and procurement officers pulled out, but they all gradually came back as they realized that business travel was an investment in their employees, their culture, and their competitiveness,” says Konwiser. Granted, this time around the travel industry has a steeper climb, with executives routinely referring to Covid-19 as delivering a stronger punch than 2008 and 9/11 combined.