Travelling to conferences and events in a COVID-19 world

Business travel in the UK may not be as prolific as in the past, but it’s beginning to pick up again post-lockdown.

Many companies are already calling for their staff to return to the office – even if in a hybrid form. At the same time, shops are open again and the public’s favourite restaurants find themselves fully booked again. Even public transport is filling up with mask-wearing employees.

International travel still uncertain

International travel, however, remains an uncertain area for many business people and even holidaymakers. And what that means for various industries is that many planned conferences and expos remain on hold – at least until people feel safer about boarding a plane again, or entering a different country where the virus may be more prolific than on their own.

Large international meetings and even conferences still went ahead during the pandemic lockdowns, of course, but they took the form of virtual get-togethers. These worked in the sense that they were easy to access, comfortable (you were viewing from the big chair at home) and the speakers had pretty much-undivided attention.

But, 18 months or so down the road, the opportunities for international networking again are opening up. And, more importantly, delegates still want the buzz of human contact.

Before this can be achieved safely and comfortably, a coordinated effort between countries is required. Failing to do so means confusion between which countries are ‘ok’ to visit and which will result in quarantine or costly COVID tests on landing.

People in government, after all, acknowledge the benefits of conferences, meetings and networking for themselves. They know how these ‘live’ meetings can lead to huge economic benefits. It doesn’t make sense then, that governments aren’t getting together to give the world a consistent message on PPE procedures and flying.

Virtual events don’t have the same value as ‘live’ meets

Positive stories about the benefits of international travel on business would help to allay any fears for travellers and encourage governments to promote it. Yes, virtual events do work – to an extent, but the real value is in ‘live’ events where individuals can get to know and understand one another, not just on a business level, but as people too.

Around a decade ago, author Thomas Freidman wrote ‘The World is Flat.’ What he meant by that is that ‘the playing field is being levelled.’ Indian and Chinese employees are now about to compete with British and American workers thanks to technological advances.

@NYTFriedman “Several technological and political forces have converged, and that has produced a global, Web-enabled playing field that allows for multiple forms of collaboration without regard to geography or distance – or soon, even language.”

The globalisation expert’s book showed us that actually, the world was pretty small and international business wasn’t just easy, but natural. International conferences and expos are absolutely critical for businesses to develop via collaboration and innovation. Larger horizons are essential for business. Fear of travel will restrict movement and ‘keep business local.’ That is not the way to move forward, many business leaders insist.

Travelling for business