The pandemic has forced companies to re-evaluate business travel from every possible angle. At organizations large and small, the value of meeting a customer, prospect, or team in person has never been in question.
Instead, as the latest Amex Global Business Travel study confirms, the temporary absence of these trips offered a stark reminder that smart travel drives successful companies.
Yes, virtual meetings and events have made some aspects of our jobs more convenient. But most leaders recognize there is no substitute for building relationships face to face. Sales and client acquisition, collaborating with partners, and networking at industry conferences are among the essential activities professionals agree cannot be replaced with a Zoom call or meeting in the metaverse, reports Deloitte’s 2022 travel industry outlook. Think this only applies to executives? Think again. In a recent poll by Global Business Travel Association, 86% of respondents said they need to travel to accomplish their business goals.
With a safe ‘return to normal’ underway, successful companies aren’t asking if business travel is worth it. Instead, corporate travel managers are thinking about how to make their investment in air travel more worthwhile. And as this year’s record-setting demand reveals, the answer for many is private aviation.
When a business trip is worthwhile, it is increasingly worth it to fly private
The pandemic has made it possible for companies to rationalize a new formula. With COVID-associated risks now part of the equation, when an organization determines that the value of a business trip is high enough, they are willing to invest a little more for the increased security of the private travel experience. The ability to avoid overcrowded airports, congested cabins, connections, delays, and long wait times is not a luxury. Instead, these pain points have become liabilities.
Analysis from McKinsey & Company reveals that the average airline passenger is exposed to more than 700 touchpoints, compared with only around 20 in private travel. With access to more than 5,000 airports in the United States - 10 times more than commercial carriers, travelers can avoid busy hubs and fly nonstop to airfields as close as possible to their destination. Factor in the convenience of flying according to your schedule, the privacy to conduct business on board, and the ability to reduce travel time and expenses, and airline travel no longer adds up.
This formula only gets easier to apply as airlines raise fares, making the cost of private travel more accessible. For the first time, it’s more cost-efficient to fly a group of mid-level managers on a private aircraft than it is to send them on a commercial flight. Contrary to common perceptions, jet travel is not exclusive to the C-Suite. A recent report by the National Business Aviation Association shows that 86% of private business flights carry marketing and sales personnel, technical and engineering staff, middle managers, and company customers. Nor is it limited to large corporations. According to the same study, 45% of companies that use private aviation have less than 500 employees.
Setting higher standards for enterprise travel
I have witnessed a paradigm shift in how enterprises value time and their investment in travel. Cost and safety have been key drivers behind the unprecedented number of first-time private clients we have seen over the past two years, which grew 33% between 2019 and 2021.
Research from Argus also reinforces the growth in demand: 65% of companies surveyed anticipate increased business jet usage in 2022. Last year also saw a 50% increase in private jet flight hours over 2020. Exemplary service is another key reason business travelers will continue flying private as the pandemic fades into the background.
Enterprise clients know that service goes far beyond the thread count. That has always been the case, but with the added uncertainty and stress caused by Covid, add-ons like priority boarding no longer cut it as a substitute for genuine customer care. As Deloitte’s 2022 travel industry outlook confirms, companies are placing a heightened emphasis on the duty of care. Organizations need the confidence that personnel will be able to switch airports at a moment’s notice, talk to an agent to arrange for special luggage requirements, or find a way home if they test Covid positive.
Any traveler who has ever stood at a gate and watched the ticker say that their flight is on-time - even though it is scheduled to leave in two minutes and there is no plane at the gate - knows there is an inadequate level of proactive communication at commercial carriers. Even in a pre-pandemic climate, airlines could not provide these assurances. With flight cancellations and delays hitting all-time highs, travel regulations changing by the day, and more than 600 unruly traveler incidents already reported this year, corporate customers are in desperate need of greater clarity, not confusion.
There is a fundamental difference between commercial and private business models, and it comes down to hospitality. As more business travelers experience the advantages of private aviation, more of them will be in search of an air travel experience airlines cannot provide. The commercial model and labor union structure doesn’t allow airlines to put customers first. By contrast, customers have always been at the heart of the private jet industry. And when we put our corporate customers first, it allows corporations to do the same.
Thinking beyond the travel benefits
I believe the companies that have started flying private are voting with their checkbooks, and decision-makers will continue to invest where they feel the most valued. It is no coincidence that 98% of Fortune’s Top 50 World’s Most Admired Companies rely on business aviation. These organizations understand that a person’s time is valuable both on and off the job. No amount of airline miles can compensate for a missed meal at home with the family or workplace burnout.
In the context of The Great Resignation, companies will either embrace this notion or be left behind. As recent talent trend data from Mercer asset management firm reveals, nearly half of employees are willing to leave their job for another to improve their well-being.
As the talent war intensifies and work-life balance becomes a greater priority, organizations will increasingly recognize that time is the business traveler’s most valuable commodity.