International Business Travel: Do the Costs Outweigh the Benefits?

International Business Travel: Do the Costs Outweigh the Benefits?

I just got back from a three-country European business trip working on country-specific targeting and marketing strategies for a beverage client, so the topic of international business travel is certainly fresh in my mind. Here are some statistics from the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries:

My question is - do the costs of traveling to develop local marketplace strategies outweigh the benefits?

On the plus side, the work that we shared with the client was highly tailored to their local market and met with a great reception. And, for those who suggest that we could have done this virtually, I can only say that this beverage client does make extensive use of telepresence, but had determined that these meetings, due to their interactive nature, wouldn’t have been effective using telepresence.

As another benefit, it was great to get a much better sense of their business issues and work directly with the people developing the marketing tactics and strategies.  This allows us to do better work and make better marketing strategy recommendations with the context.

On the cost side, I found it virtually impossible to engage in real dialogue with US domestic clients, and that necessarily the European in-country work crowded out other personal and business obligations.  For example, I had to miss an important final presentation of a project I worked on for three months because it needed to occur during the two weeks while I was in Europe.

Also, at a personal level, I wasn’t able to communicate live with my teenage children the entire trip. Due to time zone differences and busy schedules, their schedule couldn’t possibly match up with mine; they were only available at 2am European time, and, with a demanding presentation schedule, I couldn’t afford to break up my sleep.

Here are my initial conclusions. Of course you can be more effective working with clients when you can meet with them in person. And international business travel is certainly interesting.  So, if your focus is on international clients, then it definitely works to frequently travel to see these clients. But if you have a mix with much less international than domestic work, then international business travel can strain relations and effectiveness with the domestic clients.  The international business travel "doesn’t play well with others" and reduces effectiveness with domestic clients who hired you with the expectation of having easy access.  To me, it seems like the best thing is to have either a global job with a primary focus on international or to accept very few or no international assignments if the focus of your work is primarily domestic.

I’m interested to hear what others have to say on this topic. Is international business travel worth it?

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    Travelling in person to international locations where you do business creates lasting relationships that enable you to achieve your business much more successfully. The effects are long lasting and permanent of even one in-person meeting. There is no substitute for this, even if you have previously shared on online virtual relationship. The dynamics and level of support you get from a personal interaction is incrementally greater with a relationship, enhanced by meeting in person.

    If you do business internationally, depending on the scope and purpose, this can be a requirement.

    You can reduce costs by making such meetings infrequent, and leveraging travel time to achieve more at more locations, when you do travel internationally. Even if it costs you more in money and time, expanding the trip increases the ROI by doing more with a single trip.

    It decreases your visibility with a home team, ... out of site, out of mind. It increases your workday hours, because you are covering more than one time zone, and they frequently are opposite. If you have children or teenagers at home, it's worse. If you travel a lot, you lose your personal life and connection with friends, family and professional colleagues. You're tired when you arrive home and just want to stay home. Your work at home suffers otherwise too--things stack up.

    You can plan to be more productive personally and professionally while on the road however. Give yourself a day of lag coming in, to oriient to the time zone. On weekends, give yourself permission to take downtime--take a tour from the hotel. Sit outside and read or write. Take publications and reports with you for reading. Make time to write that you wouldn't have otherwise. Build backup to your own function and build alliances to make the team stronger overall for what you do.

    It's a plus overall personally and professionally to travel internationally, when it isn't excessive. Otherwise, I would only do it in short bursts. It's a life and career choice we have to each make for ourselves. Every business has tradeoffs.

  • Great perspective Debbie!

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    Obviously this is an older post that I stumbled upon, I am a frequent international business traveler. However, 99% of my clients are overseas. Keep in mind I am in a really strange situation because I have clients in every country in the world. One, I think it makes sense to have different sales people or representatives who handle U.S. clients and some that take the lead on International clients. It doesn't mean that you cannot work with both but it would allow for one person to stay in the office and take on the domestic clients while the other deals with the foreign travel. While I am in Europe 4-5 times a year sometimes for a week sometimes for 2-3 weeks I can usually get up early, be at work by 9:30 AM, take a break between 6-8 PM to answer emails and call the states (mostly the east an central states) go for drinks or dinners with clients and at 10 or 11 be back in my room with one eye on my email and one eye on CNN and maybe a couple of calls on the west coast. I do not have children so a call to my husband every other day and there you go. Asia is much more complicate time zone wise. I think meeting your clients overseas is necessary but in a way that uses that time to its advantage. Also younger employees without family or older employees with grown children are much easier to send away from the office for weeks at a time where employees with 2 young kids and a husband or wife at home can be really tough.

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