Business travel is back! That’s the word from airlines, hotels, travel management firms and others who monitor the health of the business travel scene.
Yes, there was a post-GFC dive. But due in part to Australia and Asia weathering the storm without slumping into a deep recession, and the sheer necessity of some business trips, business travel has bounced back with a bang.
According to Roy Morgan Research, at least 2.5 million Australians will make at least one business trip by air this year. The majority of those are domestic trips shuttling back and forth between our capital cities and some of the larger regional hubs, but over 20 percent are businesses making international connections with new suppliers, customers and partners. But there’s still enough elbow room in the market for airfares and hotel rates to be competitive, which means 2011 is the year your business could really take off – provided you’re willing to leave the office and do the same.
One of the cornerstones of business is careful planning, and that applies as much to travel as anything else. It’s not just because you tend to get the best rates by looking ahead and booking ahead. A bit of investigation helps avoid peak periods – not just school holidays in Australia but local holidays and festivals, major sporting events and other situations which could result in fewer airline seats and hotel rooms and thus drive up the price accordingly.
The more contacts you need to chase overseas and the more involved those visits will be – which might include a tour of a factory or other facility – the more prep work needs to be done and the longer lead-time to set things up to maximise your own time on the ground.
Beyond that, you need to plan for your absence from the office and make sure that everything flows smoothly while you’re away. Ideally this means scheduling the milestone events in any current project or future pitch to be well clear of your trip. The easiest way to do this is to determine your travel period well in advance, mark that in your calendar and treat it almost as if you were on holiday for that week or two.
But the trip isn’t just a hard start affair; you can’t just clock off as per usual at 6pm on Tuesday and catch the 10am flight on Wednesday. The week before your trip will likely involve to-and-fro in finalising arrangements, swotting up on your customers and prospective clients, going through proposals and naturally handling those unexpected things which simply crop up. That means allowing for this week to be less productive, at least by your normal standards, as you prep for your trip.
The long game
So much of business hinges on relationships, but I’ve seen many instances where someone jets into a city and expects to fly out a few days later with a folder full of contracts. That doesn’t happen, especially in Asia, which is of course our major trading partner. So set realistic expectations for what a successful trip will be. It might be inking just one contract but establishing or even strengthening relationships with potential new suppliers.
If it’s your first visit to a particular country, go to the trouble to learn a little about the culture – and that includes the culture of how they do business. Our Western way – our uniquely laidback Aussie way – isn’t the only way the world of commerce works.