What it will take to get me on the road again
What it will take to get me on the road again
25 JUNE 2020 8:18 AM

A lot of people—me included—have no desire to get back on a plane anytime soon but still see the value of business travel. What are you doing to capture our business?

If you follow me on Twitter, you may know that I hate The Flight Experience.

I don’t have fear or anxiety over the actual flying part. Rather, it’s, well, the experience. Airports and airplanes aren’t clean, both are built around the goal of packing as many people into a space (whether that’s a plane, a gate area, a security checkpoint or a Subway line) as possible. Nobody’s happy. Quite a few apparently did not have time to shower, and most of the food offerings aren’t, shall we say, conducive to sitting in a cramped space for a long period surrounded by other people.

Add in COVID-19, and forget it. Hard pass.

My friends ask me whether I miss frequent business travel, and I bet my response is the same as a lot of other business travelers: “I miss staying in nice hotels, I miss seeing industry friends and experiencing new places, but I don’t miss the air travel at all.”

That is the business traveler hotels must seek to re-capture: Someone who wants to get back out there, who still has some corporate money to do it (albeit in a smaller way) and who has no desire to get back on a plane for now.

Mind you, I know airports and airlines are communicating their plans and efforts. This article from Travel + Leisure spells out a lot of the specifics of what airports and airlines are undertaking, such as temperature screenings, limiting the number of people and attempts at social distancing.

The article also raises the reality that airports and planes just aren’t built for sustainable social distancing. Who are we kidding? Social distancing isn’t happening at my grocery store in Cleveland; why would I expect it to happen on a plane?

This is problematic for hotels, and I think the biggest factor that will impede the eventual return of group business as we knew it.

Mind you, lots of factors are standing in the way of group business, but the efforts hotels have made on that front are great: Your cleanliness messaging is spot-on and you’re figuring out how to accommodate smaller in-person group events based on your capacity. It’s not fun, it’s not revenue-generating, but it’s possible in the short term.

Until there’s a vaccine, we can’t expect event attendees to fly in at the levels we did before.

That’s why I’m excited to see the pivot to hybrid events many planners have in the works—these are combinations of much smaller in-person events that have an online component. They’ve been around for years but of course now are front and center.

(Sure, this is a sideways commercial for our own Hotel Data Conference, which will take place in August as a hybrid event, but we’re not the only ones trying this.)

Hybrid events play to the current strong arteries of the travel supply chain (hotels that can handle social distancing and have a strong cleanliness message, plus the demand that drive-to business travelers still have for education) and downplay the weak arteries (air travel).

The key though lies in event planning and partnerships. Capturing this business requires flexibility and exploring new avenues, plus lots of communication with event partners you already have on the books to break down their attendees and factor in willingness to travel.

No, they don’t rake in the revenue like traditional events and they aren’t for every hotel or every event. But with the right partners and attention to detail, hybrid events can bridge the gap.

I’d love to hear more about how hoteliers are making this pivot, particularly where the weak points and challenges lie. Comment below, email me at sricca@hotelnewsnow.com or share some hotel pen pics on Twitter @HNN_Steph.

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