Skift Take

Expect more government-sponsored international travel as countries drum up business to revive their economies after the prolonged downturn.

Trade missions, where governments coordinate international trips to drum up business, were forced to go virtual during the pandemic but could swiftly return in 2022 as countries look to revive their economies.

Governments will be keen to dispatch trade envoys, ambassadors, associations and companies to international exhibitions or carry out research in new markets.

They’re the ultimate business trip really, and more effective than video conferencing due to the need to build more personal relationships. “They can save companies valuable time and resources by maximizing contact with prospective distributors, sales representatives, or partners,” according to the International Trade Administration in the U.S.

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One Canadian organization switched to virtual trade missions but found they were lacking. “Just as Zoom conferences are an imperfect replacement for personal meetings, so too are these remote-access trade missions,” the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada noted in a report.

Britain in particular will be gearing up for more trade missions next year, following trading upheaval due to Brexit as well as coronavirus. One corporate travel agency, Yorkshire-based Good Travel Management, has even formed a new division, GT Events, to help support the government, trade associations and chambers of commerce fly the flag overseas.

“The Department for International Trade is funding trade missions and programs again, and there’s a push to get these back in place,” said Kevin Harrison, managing director at Good Travel Management. “It’s about building brand Britain again, which is more important than ever now.”

Trade envoys have so far supported more than $22 billion in UK exports carried out in 2020 and 2021, the government has claimed. Britain also appointed a celebrity, former cricketer Ian Botham, as trade envoy to Australia to kickstart transpacific trade negotiations, on top of nine other new appointments.

“The Department for International Trade has got the belief that these things are going to happen,” Harrison added. “We’re already in dialogue with a couple of trade organziations, and there’s an appetite for a return to face-to-face exhibitions. A lot of people said they wouldn’t return, but that doesn’t feel the case.”

The new GT Events division follows rival Gray Dawes Group’s own push into the overseas exhibitions market. It recently helped organize travel for exhibitors and delegates at Mobile World Congress, which took place in Barcelona, Spain, in June.

The lack of international travel for some countries continues to hurt. The Business Travel Association has calculated that the UK lost $5 billion in gross domestic product in the last week alone due to the decline of business travel, based on data from Travelogix. International travel trips from the UK dropped by 79.2 percent compared to the same week in 2019, and there was a reduction of 282,796 international and domestic business travel trips in the past week, it added.

Harrison said trade missions are still being organized this year, but most will take place in 2022. The Delta variant is also derailing them. One trade mission involving 200 companies and 500 participants was due to leave Belgium for Atlanta in the U.S. this October, but has postponed until the middle of next year, according to reports. It was to be the state’s largest trade mission since the Olympics.

On Thursday, the British government revealed it was no closer to establishing a transatlantic corridor with the U.S., but has now added Canada to its green list.

With the European Union looking to reinstate a non-essential travel ban on the U.S., expect those calls to fully reopen transatlantic flights from trade organizations and travel agencies on both sides to grow louder.

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Tags: brexit, coronavirus, government travel, trade shows, transatlantic travel, travel management, travel management companies, uk, UK government

Photo Credit: Trade missions can save companies valuable time and resources by maximizing contact with prospective distributors, sales representatives or partners, according to the International Trade Administration in the U.S. Evangeline Shaw / Unsplash