Study: Alternatives to In-Person Meetings

You’ve heard anecdotally that business travel is down since September 2001, and you’ve probably seen some cuts in your own travel budget. Now there’s a new survey out that quantifies those cutbacks and looks at how companies are handling meetings in the absence of the hefty budgets and air travel confidence of the past. Meetings in America IV: The New Road Warrior, a national survey released March 12 by WorldCom, finds that one in four business travelers has reduced air travel since September 11, 2001. Of those, 55% have adopted audio, video or Web conferencing as a meeting alternative.

While the numbers came as no real surprise, the reasons behind them were a first for this fourth annual study. “During challenging economic times, travel budgets are the first to get trimmed,” says Tim Reedy, WorldCom’s vice president of conferencing marketing and finance. “What we found significant in our study is that since last fall a large number of frequent business flyers have elected to travel less for personal safety reasons as well. We’ve never seen these factors co-exist before.”

Interestingly, a rebounding economy will not necessarily mean a rebound in business travel, according to those surveyed. While 73% cautiously believe the economy will turn around by the end of 2002, 35% of the respondents affected by corporate travel budget cuts said they did not anticipate their companies’ travel budgets would bounce back within the same timeframe, if ever.

So how are companies coping with their meeting needs? Technology. One-third of the travelers who have reduced their travel in recent months have used audio, video or Web conferencing as a substitute for flying and meeting in person. Of those who are traveling less as a result of recent events, 62% say they will use Web conferencing more in the next year. “Companies are turning to a variety of remote solutions to stay connected,” says Reedy. The most popular methods for staying in touch are e-mail and phone with 74% and 62%, respectively, of respondents saying they have used these technologies to maintain productivity since Sept. 11.

Meetings in America IV surveyed 323 qualified respondents representing a cross section of business travelers in the U.S. who have taken three or more trips by air for business purposes in the past 12 months. See complete results of the study online at www.worldcom.com/conferencing.