Back to the Future of Travel
Travel and Mobility Tech website published an article in March 2021 detailing the results of a survey among travel industry experts weighing in with their predictions for the future of business travel. The results, as they say, were mixed.
There were a couple of topics that elicited both strong opinions and marked consensus regarding the future of business travel. All experts had a high level of certainty that working remotely is here to stay and that future business events will need to accommodate a mix of both in-person and remote participants. At the other end of the spectrum, the panel also strongly agreed that the ability to gather in person will continue to be essential for productive business interactions and a “tech only” future is not in the cards.
As to their ability to divine specifics about how to strike a comfortable balance between “high touch” and “high tech,” the experts where neither as strongly opinionated nor as confident in their prognostication abilities. But they do agree that for suppliers, buyers and consumers of business travel services, the only path is forward.
Polish Up Your Crystal Ball
Thinking back to the early days of the pandemic shutdown, it’s astonishing to recall how fast and how far technology improved to deliver real-time virtual events and content over the internet; we went from awkward, sputtering videoconferences to immersive virtual trade shows delivering on-demand content, at lightning speed. These incredible innovations, borne of necessity, have made meaningful virtual participation in events a viable option for attendees who might otherwise opt to not participate at all.
The business travel experts surveyed for the article agree that the availability and popularity of virtual event attendance, previously consider just a sideshow to the main event is, to varying degrees, contributing to an actual decrease in live attendance. But, as to how significant and enduring that decrease will be is the subject of much debate. To clearly discern the future of business travel, it’s important to focus on the specific drivers behind business travel decisions.
“To clearly discern the future of business travel, it’s important to focus on the specific drivers behind business travel decisions.”
Sensing a Presence
According to the experts, the best indicator of a return to pre-pandemic group business travel is not so much a case of looking at “Who,” but “Why?” Just like in any great mystery, the key to deciphering the clues requires understanding the motives behind the actions. In this case, predicting growth in business travel depends on examining the travelers’ individual and business motivations. Activities like sales calls, recruiting events, market intelligence gathering, and client presentations are much more effective when conducted face-to-face. These types of specific, personal and targeted activities are currently driving the incremental return of individual and small group business travel.
Where technology is enabling significant and persistent attendee erosion is in large-scale meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE), corporate training, and team building events. Lingering COVID health and safety concerns, a growing affinity for working remotely, and access to high-quality virtual alternatives have all combined to quash enthusiasm for a quick return to large-scale business travel.
It’s more than just pandemic fallout that’s pumping the brakes on the return of group business travel. Prior to 2020, participation in annual city-wide conferences and mega-conventions, was believed to be necessary to building or maintaining a company’s brand image and prestige in their respective industry. But with exhibit and attendance costs rising year-over-year, events once considered “can’t miss,” were starting to feel more like a hostage situation. At the same time, new marketing options, like social media, were rapidly maturing into a reliable distribution channel for corporate brand awareness and product messaging campaigns with measurable and cost-efficient ROI.
Rising expenses, declining popularity, and expanding alternatives were already making exhibitors and attendees question the wisdom of ongoing participation in mega-events. Then came the pandemic and with it, a global reset. The entire hospitality industry was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. While leisure travel has come roaring back in 2021 with rates and occupancy levels nearly on par with 2019, large-scale business travel is predicted to continue to lag well behind recent historic highs. Which creates new opportunities for buyers of group business travel who can read the tea leaves.
Interpret the Signs
Current market dynamics can potentially unlock access to new location choices for groups willing to be flexible with their dates and patterns. Meeting dates that fill mid-week occupancy gaps and don’t overlap peak leisure days may earn more favorable terms than in recent years. Likewise, destinations that are less attractive to vacationers, like urban and metro areas with good airport access, would also be good choices for best rates and availability. In addition to changing travel patterns, consider changing the types of events you’re holding to align with your attendees’ preferences. For example, schedule multiple regional meetings instead of one large national event; or deliver content and training locally using a smaller “road show” crew at sequential events.
Paradoxically, flagging interested in large-scale events is creating a demand for more small and medium sized meetings and events, which, in turn, places more stress on meeting planners and other buyers of group accommodations, many of whom are already stretched thin by shutdown related attrition in their ranks.
“Current market dynamics can potentially unlock access to new location choices for groups willing to be flexible with their dates and patterns.”
Back to the Future
Which brings us full circle; back to advancements in technology that provide solutions. The Vindow cloud-based travel technology tool allows group travel buyers to quickly and easily identify appropriate venues, request competitive pricing and create a contract all within the same platform. Built-in Instant Messaging enables fast and productive negotiations and features like local Market Intelligence Reports, Price Comparison Simulators and hyper-local safety scores empowers confident site selection and purchasing decisions.
In reality, no one is omniscient. Predicting what is yet to be is, at best, merely projecting past experience onto an enigmatic future. If the past two years have taught us anything it’s that even the most reliably conventional wisdom is written in sand, but ahead are opportunities waiting to unfold.