Why face-to-face meetings
are still important
in business

When Skype first arrived on the scene back in 2003, many thought it would see off the need for business travel. But while video conferencing may make it far easier to attend a business meeting on the other side of the world, it can never replace the eye contact, the body language and the ‘seal-the-deal’ handshake of a face-to-face meeting.

This is something Graham ‘Skroo’ Turner, founder and chief executive officer of the Flight Centre Travel Group, feels strongly about. “Today, people do use video conferencing a lot, but face-to-face business is still so important,” he said.

“If you’re expanding overseas, for example, it’s something you’ve just got to do. If you’re looking at acquiring a business you want to talk face-to-face to the people you’re buying this business from. And it’s not just acquisitions, but sales, dealing with suppliers… it’s essential for a whole range of activities that just don’t work as well on the phone or online.”

“That’s why business travel is growing consistently year after year,” he added. “I don’t think there’s going to be much change in that.”

The changing face of business travel management

And while that 2003 prediction of the death of business travel never came to fruition, modern technology has certainly changed the way that business travel is managed.

Take FCBT, Flight Centre’s business travel arm, for example. When it launched in 2005, FCBT made its travel bookings over the phone and raised its invoices manually, taking up a lot of time and creating a lot of paperwork. Nowadays though, things are a little different.

“Today, a lot of the time-consuming stuff, such as booking complex flights, is done automatically. And a lot of the invoicing and admin as well,” said Skroo.

“Most of our effort now goes into looking after the interests of the clients rather than doing their bookings. Making sure they have what they need, that we can organise transfers and hotels, and all the small things.”

He added: “The number one thing clients want is seamless travel experiences without problems, and as automatic as possible.”

The changing business travel experience

As a veteran traveller, Skroo frequently travels for business from his home in Australia, and he’s noticed changes to business travel from the customer point of view as well.

“This has been called the golden age of travel,” Skroo says. “The airlines’ product is so much better than it was 10 years ago, let alone 20 years ago.

“If you’re travelling internationally – particularly to Australia and the United States – the Business Class offering today is better than the First Class offering was 20 years ago.”

Taking advantage of Business Class

Having made numerous flights between Sydney and London over the years, Skroo is a strong advocate for flying in Business Class.

“If you’re flying long-haul international, make sure you go Business Class on a good carrier. Some people say it’s not cheap, but it’s money well spent considering what you can do on the way, and how you feel when you get there and get back,” he said.

“Your main goal should be to look after yourself. The airlines’ product is so good that you can get a lot of work done and you’ll arrive in a much better state. If you choose economy or a second-rate airline, your people will tend to avoid travelling, which is not a good thing.”

Increasing your productivity

Of course it’s not just about comfort. On a business trip you need to stay alert, and ensure you’re at your peak productivity levels when you land. So for Skroo, avoiding jet lag is key: “I find that doing some exercise on arrival – particularly if it’s daylight – can help offset jetlag a bit.”

He advised: “Plan ahead and understand what time zones you will be in. If it’s three in the morning the last thing you’ll want to do is work, so make sure to factor that into your plans. And be aware that jetlag is worse if you’re travelling east rather than west. It’s going to take you longer to adapt.”

Dealing with delays

It’s the nature of travel that delays are sometimes unavoidable. But for Skroo, the advantages of being there in person far outweigh the time spent travelling and the risks to your efficiency.

He concludes: “How much productivity you lose [through delays] depends on your job. Travelling and meeting face-to-face might mean there are some things you can’t get done, such as reports and so on, but by travelling you will get generally better outcomes, I think, even if it’s not as time efficient.”