Brandon Contreras represents the worst fears of the lucrative business travel industry.
A partner account executive at a U.S. tech firm, Contreras was used to traveling frequently for his company. But nine months into the pandemic, he and thousands of others are working from home and dialing into video conferences instead of boarding planes.
Contreras manages his North American accounts from Sacramento, California and doesn’t expect to travel for work until the middle of next year. Even then, he’s not sure how much he will need to.
“Maybe it’s just the acceptance of the new normal. I have all of the resources necessary to be on the calls, all of the communicative devices to make sure I can do my job,” he said. “There’s an element of face-to-face that’s necessary, but I would be OK without it.”
That trend could spell big trouble for hotels, airlines, convention centers and other industries that rely so heavily on business travelers like Contreras.
Work travel represented 21% of the $8.9 trillion spent on global travel and tourism in 2019, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian recently suggested business travel might settle into a “new normal” that is 10% to 20% lower than it used to be.
“I do think corporate travel is going to come back faster than people suspect. I just don’t know if it will be come back to the full volume,” Bastian told The Associated Press. Right now, Delta’s business travel revenue is down 85%.