Trade without travel – reality or rhetoric?

COVID-19 has impacted how companies in every country serve their clients in markets worldwide.  Government sponsored trade missions and private sector trade shows have been cancelled.  52%of exhibit managers have implemented virtual events. Corporate exhibit managers project more virtual/hybrid events, lower trade show attendance, fewer large/national events, and more small/regional events

International travel is down 90% and will not return to normal until 2023.   Even if flights exist, quarantines in numerous countries for arriving passengers render international travel impractical. Yet, businesses must continue face-to-face conversations with international partners and customers.

When a vaccine is available and international travel resumes, business travelers will still be wary of taking unnecessary health risks.  By that time, business executives around the world will have become comfortable with conducting international business virtually as an efficient, effective means of business communication.

In short, changes in how businesses communicate internationally are here to stay.

In recent months, I have presented solutions for doing international business virtually to over a dozen U.S. state trade agencies that provide international business support to companies.   Common questions being asked are:    What virtual solutions exist?  What is virtual matchmaking? How is virtual business conducted?  And what are the benefits to companies that engage in international business virtually?

OCO’s experience over the past six months working with both companies and export agencies has confirmed that conducting international business virtually can be more efficient and more effective.

More efficient in that exporters can achieve the same level of vetting of potential partners/representatives via virtual tools as with traditional in-person, in-country meetings, and with less costs and time constraints of a traditional international business travel.

More effective in that virtual business, done properly, results in more engagement by decisions makers.

The benefits for companies to conduct international business virtually include:

  • More connections with more clients: In lieu of spending $5,000 for a weeklong trip, or $50,000 to attend an international trade show, an exporter can conduct regular visual check-ins with multiple clients.
  • Expanded market coverage. In lieu of confining business to 2-3 countries due to market assessment costs, exporters can explore new markets cost-effectively.
  • Higher value discussions emerging as norm. Deep discussions are no longer constrained to in-person meetings.
  • Differentiator with competitors. Exporters that are adept at doing international business virtually distinguish themselves from their competitors.

OCO has prepared reports on best practices for conducting international business virtually, including digital platform comparisons, export licensing requirements, emerging cultural norms and more.  Contact me at the link below to learn more.


Paul Grossman

Director, U.S.

OCO Global