Nearly everyone has experienced some form of video conferencing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and although it has been a great way to stay in contact while remaining socially distant, and seems like a great way to reduce travel time and costs – is it bringing you the value you expect? The answer is probably not – at least, according to researchers at Harvard University’s growth lab.

Researchers Find that Business Travel Will Bounce Back

While email, social media, and video conferencing can move conversations and information at close to the speed of light, there is one factor that is missing from this technology that can only be experienced face-to-face. Harvard’s researchers refer to this factor as “knowhow”.

“Knowhow” is used to describe knowledge that is gained slowly through years of experience and applied while directly engaging with other people. This is different from information gathered from  books, articles or general discussions, as knowhow is something that can be applied based upon emotion, expression and general understanding. It can only be relayed quickly and effectively when speaking face-to-face with someone.

This “knowhow” factor is a core reason why so many companies rely on business travel, and why Harvard predicts that many companies will return to business travel as the pandemic comes to an end.

How does Business Travel Contribute to the Global Economy?

The researchers reasoned industries that conduct more business travel should be more productive due to the increased movement of knowledge between workers in those industries. In addition, there should be an increase in competitiveness and exports of that industry as a result.

To test their hypothesis, they mapped out the network of global business travel, linking the top business travel destinations between countries, and calculating the amount of travel done between those destinations. By doing so, they found countries that have previously been visited by business travelers from other countries more frequently grow new industries and expand existing ones.

The also calculated how much a stop in business travel would impact the global economy, country-by-country. For example – they found that if the top business traveling countries (Germany, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom) stopped sending business travelers abroad, the global economy would drop by 8.1%. (Read the Full Harvard Study Here).

The researchers were able to prove that business travel (and the distribution of “knowhow” between countries) actually causes global economic growth. So while it may be cheaper to just Skype your colleagues from across the globe – there is no true replacement for the connection of meeting in person, and business travel will continue to thrive well into the future.

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