Some have said it’s doom and gloom for the business travel industry. And it may have looked that way, especially early on in the pandemic when zoom meetings were taking off and people realized they could put their heads together with their staff and partners from the comfort of their homes—sometimes even in their pajamas.
At the end of 2020, studies estimated business travel would be down as much as 50 percent. However, after a year away from other people, that tune may be changing. People are craving face-to-face interaction and business trips are back on the horizon, especially as vaccines rollout and COVID-19 infections fall.
Airlines are seeing demand for business travel increase, according to Delta CEO Ed Bastian who spoke with NBC’s Lester Holt about the travel industry.
“As we move forward, right now we’re not seeing much business travel,” said Bastian. “We’re down, probably still about 80 percent, but as we get to the late summer in the fall, and again as vaccinations grow as our country starts to reach herd immunity, hopefully by early this summer, businesses are coming back. I hear from all our business—big business corporates that they’re ready to go and go see their customers and go meet each other and see their teams. So it’s going to come back it just may be another year or two behind leisure travel.”
Vaccines are playing a big role in building back comfort and confidence in travel.
In a February poll of its members, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) found that 79 percent of its members would be “very comfortable” or “comfortable” traveling for business after receiving the Covid-19 vaccination.
Testing also plays an important role with nearly half of members saying that they support mandatory COVID-19 testing in order to ensure the safety of customers and clients when meeting face-to-face.
“As vaccination programs ramp up globally, traveler and corporate confidence is starting to return,” said Dave Hilfman, interim executive director, GBTA. “It is reassuring to hear so much discussion around business travel resuming and a change in sentiment from 16 percent to 25 percent of GBTA members and stakeholders who have resumed some domestic business travel in the last month.”
Hotel companies are also ready to welcome back the meetings market ramping up safety protocols.
“There is a strong desire to return to face-to-face meetings, and welcoming groups back to our hotels is going to take a team effort from those planning events,” IHG senior vice president Derek DeCross said. “We’re committed to helping provide quality meeting experiences to give the attendees the confidence they need to feel secure attending in-person events, if that’s the option they choose.”
IHG’s Meet with Confidence program is one example of how hotels are enacting new safety standards and includes resources, technology and tools for hybrid events as well. Marriot offers Connect With Confidence and Hilton offers EventReady within its CleanStay program to facilitate in-person meetings, conventions and groups.
While many see a full recovery for business travel a ways off yet, there are signs of life, especially within the travel industry.
Tammy Levent, CEO of Elite Travel and founder of the Travel Agent Success Kit (TASK) is hosting her annual TASK Live meeting in Cancun this June 17-20, which is sold out.
“These agents are the cream of the crop, and they are finding the money to go during the worst time of their lives because they know how important it is,” said Levent.
Levent’s T.A.S.K. Live event is just one of several events that are returning to the travel industry, which is waving goodbye to the virtual event and welcoming back meeting in real life.