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Business Travel and Technology

By Ken Walker

Email, web conferencing, video phones, instant messaging, and the internet has changed the way businesses approach travel. Companies with smaller budgets benefit greatly from not having to physically travel to every meeting, but sometimes making the trip is necessary. Does technology effectively replace actual physical travel for businesses? When is business travel worth the cost?

Travel or Technology
This battle is being waged by mega corporations. Giant technology firms like AT&T, Cisco, and Oracle tout the advantages of telecommunication while hotels, airlines, and car rental companies emphasize the benefits of a personal touch.

How do you decide between when to send an employee out for travel and when it’s best to save money with a phone call or videoconferencing? Sometimes, incurring business travel costs for the sake of conducting a meeting in person are well worth the expense.

Some things, like salesman trying to close local customers, absolutely require a trip. For more gray area circumstances, consider the following questions when deciding whether to take on business travel costs to send someone onsite:

• Managers should first ask, “Do I really need a person there?” There’s no need to send someone on a tour of your remote facilities to teach ethics.

• Managers should put themselves in the other person's shoes. Would you prefer to see someone personally as a potential client or employee? Would like to ask some confidential questions that you would rather not ask in a public forum over a web conference? Are there some complex demonstrations of software or applications that would require someone to be there physically to really understand? 

Answering these questions can help businesses determine if they should send an employee on a business trip. There are definite advantages to face-to-face meetings. It may seem like an unnecessary expense when you first approve it, but business travel costs can pay dividends in the long run. Information may be retained longer and relationships are cultivated.

But the advantages of doing business using technology are becoming ever more prevalent. The two primary benefits of telecommunication are time saved and lower business travel costs.

Think about how much time a business trip takes. A trip from New York to Los Angeles, for example, consists of getting to an airport (in New York traffic), arriving at least an hour ahead of time to check in, flying multiple hours, getting a cab or rental car, and then driving to your destination (in L.A. traffic). This can end up being an all day affair. L.A. to New York is even worse because you lose 3 hours.

Also, consider the cost of such a trip. The gas for the car ride or cost of the train, cab, and/or bus ticket to get to the airport in New York, possibly an overpriced snack at the airport, the flight, and the transportation (car rental, cab, etc.) around Los Angeles. All of these time and monetary costs can be avoid with telecommunication technology.

So the question that small businesses must ask themselves remains: When is business travel worth the cost?

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