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The travel industry has grown bigger and bigger every year—with over 2 billion domestic personal trips taken last year and 405 million business trips taken in the U.S alone. However, with the current global pandemic, travel has essentially halted. 

In late March, the state department issued a level 4 health notice—the highest advisory level—asking travelers to avoid all international travel. The U.S. isn’t alone in travel restrictions: China, Iran, Ireland, the UK, and most European countries have offered level 3 health notices, which recommend against all non-essential travel. 

Business travel is required for many jobs in today’s society, so how do we continue business-as-usual with travel restrictions in place?

How has business travel changed in 2020

As the coronavirus has spread worldwide many countries have felt the immediate impacts. There’s been a 98% decline in Italian airport traffic and 88% in Europe year-over-year on booked flights. Worldwide, these kinds of trends have resulted in over 250 billion in loss to the travel industry this year, due to lack of revenue. 

Losses are not only due to a lack of demand. Airline companies like Alaskan and American Airlines are taking extra precautions by only allowing you to book every-other seat—meaning planes are choosing to fly half empty (if not more). 

Even though airline companies are notorious for poor refund policies, a ruling issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation has required airlines to offer refunds for flights cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. For passengers choosing to cancel their own flights, most airlines are offering a credit that’s good for the next 24 months.  

In general, businesses are greatly reducing employee travel since 95% of the population is under a stay-at-home order. Not to mention, places like China and New York (the top city for business travel) are current hot-spots for COVID-19, so travelers aren’t eager to book a trip.

How to maintain your business relationships without travel

Many seasoned business travelers have had to adjust their tricks of trade, finding clever ways to keep in contact with their clients. Here are some of the best tips for maintaining relationships with your long-distance clients, without taking business trips:

Be honest and timely with follow-ups

This new terrain is uncharted for all of us, so it’s likely that your clients have questions that you don’t have immediate answers to. Fortunately, your clients are facing similar challenges, so hopefully they’ll be understanding.

The important part here is to be honest in communicating the things you don’t know and follow-up once you get the answer. A study by Boston Consulting Group revealed that one of the top qualities clients look for in brand attraction is authenticity. By communicating honestly and getting back to your customers, employees, and clients in a timely manner, you will build a lasting relationship of trust which will keep people coming back.

Bring personality to your meetings

The constant stream of coronavirus updates has left many people frustrated and afraid of what the future holds. One way to take the stress out of client relationships is to do something different and incorporate some fun into your scheduled meeting.

You could start off a meeting with a short game or activity. Jackbox games have gained huge popularity lately and can be played together even if you’re physically apart. You could also keep it simple and start the meeting by talking about the different things you’ve done while you’ve been stuck at home—books you’ve read, dinners you’ve made, or Netflix series you’ve binged. 

Taking just a moment out of your day to enjoy some genuine connection will allow you to easily find common ground and connect with clients even though you’re miles apart.

Host events virtually

Events and tradeshows have traditionally played a major role in sales, but the current pandemic has made hosting in-person events impossible—even the Olympics are postponed. However, some companies have found success in moving to a virtual event platform instead. 

For example, Skift is planning an online summit on business travel and the React Summit is being hosted remotely for front-end and full-stack engineers. Women In Product has successfully hosted a couple virtual events since March 2020; they’ve found success by limiting the number of attendees (first 100 to join), scheduling at easily accessible times (lunch or 5pm), and hosting a guest speaker (along with free time for networking).

A few tips for hosting a successful virtual event:

  • Compare virtual conferencing software products like Brella, Vfairs and Hop In (Zoom and YouTube are also great options). 
  • Record your video so you can share and repurpose content later.
  • If your event is a digital series, set up a recurring time so people know when to tune in.
  • Use social media to promote your event, gather RSVPs, and capture live streams.
  • Make sure you have a troubleshooting team available.

Handle cancellations with grace

For previously scheduled live events, you may need to cancel or postpone. If this is the case, handle the process with grace and professionalism. Remember that your attendees have also been affected by the current crisis and will appreciate a show of respect.

Ensure that you provide immediate updates and refunds upon the cancellation of an event. E3 did a great job announcing their event cancelation by acknowledging the problem (coronavirus pandemic), addressing the concern and reason for cancelation (health and safety of attendees) and offering a solution (someone will be reaching out to you offering a refund.) 

It’s still unknown when travel restrictions will be lifted so it may be difficult to lock-down an exact date to reschedule your event. If face-to-face interaction is a big part of what makes your event work, a postponement may be preferred to a virtual substitute.  

At the end of the day, most travelers will be understanding—and grateful—that you took the necessary actions to keep everyone safe. The way you address your conference attendees now can have a lasting impact on their future involvement in your events, products, and business.

We’re all in this together

Although we can’t see each other in person right now, the virtual world has given us endless possibilities for connection. From creating community groups, virtual events, and adding video conferencing to meetings we can maintain our close relationships. 

What truly matters is your character and the relationship you build with your clients.

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