The return of corporate travel means the return of corporate travelers. How has the experience changed — and how hasn’t it — for our customers?
By Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, President and CEO, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
“Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic brought global travel to a standstill, one thing became clear: Corporate travel would face a slower return than leisure, almost as surely as international would lag domestic.” Right at the outset, a new report from Deloitte called Return to a World Transformed: How the Pandemic Is Reshaping Corporate Travel hits the nail on the head.
Yes, business travel is coming back much more slowly than leisure travel — but it is coming back. HSMAI is holding our first in-person events as part of Commercial Strategy Week in Dallas next month, and like our members who work in hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue optimization, we’re attuned to how this experience will or should be different for our customers — meaning our attendees. Deloitte’s report is particularly helpful because it outlines potential triggers and drags for the return of corporate travel.
I was especially struck by the report’s “Why We Fly Matrix,” which evaluates various travel purposes within the context of a company’s business goals and the extent to which a technology solution might replace travel. The matrix underscores the fact that, for the foreseeable future, some business travel experiences will be more justified than others. Here are a few additional insights from the report that resonated with me:
Travel restrictions: “Decision-makers cite the easing of restrictions such as quarantine on arrival as important to the resumption of travel. Improved ease of movement will grow in importance as companies move beyond their current focus on resuming domestic travel and look to resume international trips.” Hand-in-hand with the easing of restrictions is the importance of not suddenly forgetting about COVID-19 — letting our customers know that, as they begin traveling again, we’ll continue to prioritize their health and safety, whether through enhanced cleaning protocols, mask mandates, vaccination requirements, or additional measures.
Face-to-face: “Travel use cases that support client relationships have been identified as the most crucial to business success, and the most dependent on in-person interaction. Visits to prospects and clients will lead the comeback.” In other words, getting business travelers back on the road means helping them … well, do business. Let’s make it as easy as possible for them to connect with old clients, identify new ones, and have the kind of productive interactions that can only happen face-to-face.
Booking channels: “Managed travel channels, including online corporate booking tools and agents, appear poised to significantly grow their share of travel bookings over supplier-direct (hotel and airline websites) and online travel agency (OTA) channels. The heightened duty of care brought on by the pandemic, as well as the desire to manage costs and manage environmental impact, have increased the emphasis on in-program booking.” Obviously, this has major implications for our industry. At this point, how business travel is booked is less important than that it is booked, but we’ll need to keep a close eye on any longer-lasting or even permanent effects on corporate booking patterns.
But let’s return to the good news: Business travel is coming back. We always knew it would, and can’t wait to do our part by welcoming you to HSMAI’s Commercial Strategy Week — Sept. 27–30, 2021, in Dallas. See you there!