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?