Packing and unpacking your favorite carry-on. The distinct sensation of checking into your flight the night before takeoff (or, in some cases, on the ride there). Extending your stay to explore a city or meet with friends who happen to live near your conference venue. This was the life of many who, pre-pandemic, spent a significant portion of their year hopping on and off planes and trains to attend what were then deemed critical business meetings and conventions. Now, all a distant memory.
The Past: Remember That?
Business travel previously accounted for as much as 75 percent of airline carriers’ profits, and in 2018 alone this segment spent up to $1.4 trillion on airfare, accommodations, ground transportation, food and other travel services, per Forbes. And many opted to mix business with pleasure—aka bleisure.
A 2018 study from Expedia Media Group found that 67 percent of bleisure trips were within the same destination as where the business trip was occurring. Many also brought loved ones. Take Las Vegas, for example: A whopping 6.6 million people visited for conferences last year, and 24 percent of those visiting brought along at least one person to join them.
The Present: What We’re Missing
Right now, we’re seeing air travel down 70 percent, with leisure driving the pockets of growth we saw this spring and summer. Understandably, business travel’s return is moving at a different pace. Many companies are maintaining policies that permit only essential travel for business needs, if any at all, and conferences globally have either been postponed or are opting for digital and/or hybrid methods of connecting. It’s still unclear how and when we’ll see levels normalize. According to the latest research from Destination Analysts, concerns among American travelers about contracting the coronavirus rose this week, with pessimism regarding the virus’ impact clearly associated with the rise in infection rates.
It’s not all grim, though. About 40 percent of convention attendees claim to have plans to join a convention/group meeting event in the coming year. Building trust has been key to the increase in positive sentiment around willingness to attend such events. The more people start attending hybrid conference models and seeing for themselves the health and safety measures in place, word will spread and the rate at which trust is trending could speed up.
The truth is, we miss the in-person experiences that fulfilled us in ways that digitally remote experiences simply cannot. As Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta put it: “People like business travel. It’s a break from the monotony, in some cases, of their work.” Human connection in its traditional form cannot be substituted, and prior to the pandemic, the digitally remote lifestyle already on the rise was even then seen as a driver in a “dire epidemic of loneliness.”
The Future: A Marketer’s Responsibility
After months of travel restrictions, this pent-up demand for even business travel will continue to grow. Enhanced safety precautions and news of a potentially effective vaccine have triggered hope for the travel industry, and there’s good reason to look to the future with improved sentiment towards this space. Though hybrid options will remain for the long term, the halo effect that will come with a rise in business and bleisure travel will ultimately aid in economic recovery.
With this understanding, the role of a responsible marketer in travel and tourism is as important as ever:
- Above all, understanding how to safely and responsibly arrive at a destination is critical, and the measures in place to do so vary globally. Ensure you are communicating the intricacies of this process, along with the dos and don’ts, clearly and to the respective groups you’re targeting. Canada, for example, has clearly identified those who can enter, and how.
- How are conferences and conventions ensuring safety? Neither increased confidence nor the vaccine implementation will be immediate. Communicating efforts in health safety and setting standards for this space will remain critical for the long haul and must be done in a targeted fashion. Management company ASM Global has implemented their VenueShield Program for protocols within their facilities that allows for efficient understanding of the measures in place.
- Meeting spaces are critical—from outdoor options to smaller venues to hybrid technologies. How is your destination or venue going above and beyond? Smart Meetings recently highlighted some of the best in the space.
- Know your audience. For example, we know the human resource departments of many corporations are evaluating approvals for business travel to be considered. Consider your demographics beyond the traditional.
Ultimately, the future of business travel will be a marriage of the old hustle and bustle, combined with the new set of priorities. The pandemic has demonstrated the importance in the need to adapt, and, as communication experts, understanding the new lifestyle of business travel will be key to communicating it effectively.
If you’re looking for support in strategizing to communicate safely and responsibly on behalf of your destination, venue or travel brand, we can help.