Business travel will bounce back "in full" as the pandemic recedes, with Zoom more likely to replace phone calls than flights, says United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby.
Of course, Kirby like almost all airline bosses has a vested interest in such optimism, but his broad take for being bullish on business travel speaks to the heart of what those long flights and lonely hotel stays are really all about.
"Business travel is not about transactions, it's not about picking up phone and asking quick questions, which Zoom can replace," Kirby said during The Wall Street Journal Future of Transportation event.
"It's about getting to know people, getting to talk about their families, going out and having a drink or going to dinner – and that's where you develop those relationships, and relationships are really what drive business and what drive opportunity."
"The serendipity of being in person simply doesn't exist on a Zoom call."
Zoom calls are a more transactional, process-driven medium, Kirby believes – "very structured, you do A, B C, and that's not what business travel is about."
"Business travel may start there, but it's about exploring ideas that come up and having a fulsome conversation with a lot of people in the room."
Kirby admits the pandemic boom in popularity of videochat platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Webex, along with hybrid events which mix in-person and remote elements, mean "there'll be some differences" in how business is done in future.
"I think Zoom and (online events) are going to replace phone calls, but it's not a substitute for building relationships and the in-person reaction."
"I am a firm believer that business travel is going to return in full (and) is going to completely recover once this is all over."
ET readers: do you agree with Kirby? How do you see apps like Zoom impacting business travel, and can videocalls really replace business trips?