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3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
For those despairing of endless Zoom calls, salvation may be at hand. Barring any more lockdowns, face-to-face
meetings and events are finally on their way back.
The most recent monthly
Northstar PULSE Survey of European meeting planners logged a significant jump
in respondents working on live events and a similar fall in those working only
on virtual get-togethers.
Across the Atlantic, Betsy Bondurant, president of strategic meetings
management consultancy Bondurant Consulting, sees signs of revival too. She is
observing a trickle of bookings being made for as early as the third quarter of
2021, followed by a steady flow in the fourth quarter and then a tidal wave in
2022, when she believes demand could well exceed supply.
Ciaran Delaney, CEO and founder of the booking tool Meetingsbooker.com,
says small meetings will enjoy a short-term boom when pent-up demand is finally
released, not least because some companies have accumulated large numbers of
employees who have not yet met. But he forecasts bookings will also trend
higher long-term thanks to the permanent, Covid-driven shift to home working.
“Businesses have realised
they are going to need many small meetings for their teams in future,” says
Delaney. “The way the work environment has changed is having an impact. We’re
getting new clients who are reducing their office footprint and going to meet
twice a week in those cities instead.”
Moreover, Delaney argues, companies
have to think about their many employees who, over the past year, have fled the
cities where they work. “There is more need to bring those people together,”
says Delaney. “They will meet every quarter off site and stay a couple of
More questionable, perhaps, is whether large, produced events will return
to pre-pandemic levels. As with transient business trips, evaluation of whether
the financial and environmental costs can be justified is likely to be far more
rigorous from now on.
our event planners and marketeers, we're saying, ‘You have to get to the core
of the objective of the meeting,’ which will determine what type of meeting it
should be,” said an unnamed global insurance company director in a report
published last month by event management company Headbox.
are various scenarios that will necessitate face-to-face – sponsorship where
you need to maximise ROI, or business development, or initial client onboarding
– and we're capturing what those sub-categories are at the moment versus those
that we identify as being possible virtually.”
commercial bank head of marketing quoted in the same report said: “I don't
think you're going to be able to justify some of the things we did as ‘business
as usual’ before. Getting everyone to travel and sit in a room for an hour and
a half is just not going to be worth it. It's not going to be worth putting a
stage set up and it's not going to be worth the travel in terms of
rethink of return on investment has significant consequences for the budgeting
and procurement of meetings. Headbox predicts companies will save money by
staging fewer meetings and with fewer people attending them. However, it adds, these
savings will be offset to some extent by a higher spend on event quality to
create a 'wow' factor whose appeal will overcome any unwillingness to travel.
you are doing less face-to-face, you need to make it really count,” says the
insurance company procurement director quoted in the Headbox report. “So for
those really crucial clients what can we offer them that is truly unique and
There is much else for buyers
to consider when meetings resume. Health concerns “may mean the number of
participants will need to change for the meeting,” said Deborah Short, head of
T&E, expense and payments for pharmaceuticals company GSK, during the
Institute of Travel Management annual (virtual) conference last month.
reducing what we would go for from 500 to 350 [participants],” said Headbox’s insurance
client, a decision taken both to keep attendees comfortable and comply with any
social distancing requirements that may be in place.
For these reasons, Meetingbookers.com
has added an option to request socially distanced venue space beyond what would
normally be required for their specified number of participants. Eighty per
cent of Meetingbookers clients are availing themselves of it, says Delaney.
More generally, according to GSK’s
Short, “safety and security are going to be a new standard in venue selection
criteria and, once we put that in, that’s not going to change.” As a result,
expect much more emphasis on managing liability, insurance and risk because, says
Bondurant, “no one wants to be the first to have a meeting that becomes a
Buyers are aiming to avoid
that happening by specifying required hygiene protocols in their contracts. But
there is pushback from hotels and other venues. “Hotels always want to put in
as little into a contract as possible and they are trying to make the planner
100 per cent responsible for the wellbeing of the attendee,” Bondurant says.
This is something, she adds, that buyers should resist: venues must take some
responsibility for what happens in their public areas.
Going back and forth with
venues on issues such as liability could extend lead times – how long an event
is booked before it takes place. Yet at the same time there is nervousness
about confirming reservations too early in an era when no one is sure when
circumstances may force a change of plans.
It is a tension sure to play
out many times in the months ahead and could be complicated further if
Bondurant is right that meeting venues will be very busy in 2022. Low
availability could also push up prices, so anyone willing to risk bookng now is
more likely to find favourable pricing – though within limits. Venues have more
than a year of lost income to make up for and higher costs because of enhance
cleaning protocols and associated trends such as a shift from buffet
self-service to table service.
a result of all these factors, buyers will doubtless pay more attention than
ever to cancellation clauses in their contracts. Once again, Bondurant warns
that change is imminent as demand ramps up. “Hotels are still being relatively
flexible about cancellations but as we get closer to the end of the year that
flexibility will go away,” she says.
time: what does the new trend for hybrid meetings mean for buyers?