Growing reliance on hybrid meetings, as well as greater awareness of the impact of travel on the environment throughout the pandemic, will likely result in the extinction of one-day business trips, say industry players at the virtual UFI Asia Pacific Conference 2021 last week.
Speaking at the Corporate Travel & Meetings: Which Way Forward? session, panellists agreed that the substitution of business travel by technology – such as virtual meetings – was inevitable, and because of this, one-day business trips might be a thing of the past.
Johnny Thorsen, vice president, strategy & innovation– American Express, Digital Labs, stated: “(Technology) will not eliminate everything, but it’s looking to be a very strong (replacement) for one- or two-day business trips.”
He further predicted that there would be a “substantial reduction of 50 per cent or more” in one-day trips in large organisations, the largest category in their corporate programmes.
More organisations are expected to clearly define essential business trips, opined Benjamin Concepcion, global head of travel operations – Novartis, who listed trainings as an example of an activity that would not be essential and could be conducted virtually.
Along with this change in attitudes towards business trips, Kerry Healy, Accor’s chief commercial officer, South-east Asia, Japan and South Korea, said more thought would go into quick turnaround trips, as the metrics on the return of investment will take centrestage before any in-person meeting goes ahead.
Agreeing with fellow panellists that one- or two-day business trips would cease to exist in the near future, Healy shared that Accor is already seeing increased lengths of stay occurring with corporate accounts.
As companies look to cut down on corporate travel, meetings that are 100 per cent in-person will also be impacted. Such events will be replaced by hybrid versions, due also to capacity limitation amid a pandemic.
Thorsen said the shift to hybrid events would bring greater commercial value, as the total attendance could be tripled or even increased tenfold through remote access.
“I think providing that remote attendance opportunity is really important for future successful events,” elaborated Thorsen.
In addition to hybrid events, investing in technology has also become a necessity.
Concepcion shared how Novartis created a portal for its meeting planners to make virtual events between teams interactive and collaborative through digital whiteboards and active polling. The company also built studios in their offices in several locations around the world for this purpose.
Sharing a hotelier’s perspective, Healy said Accor was committed to deploying technology in their operations even though the decline in physical meetings is “challenging and there is no business”.
“It’s our role to be adaptable for whatever the customer wants to do in the hotel and work with them on their programmes, either with our own hybrid solution or with theirs,” Healy said. She added that Accor created a digital lab to look at the “immediate pain points that this crisis has raised for our owners and customers”, and how the company is addressing them.
Last month, the Fairmont Singapore converted its VIP lounge into a broadcast studio, shared Healy as an example of how Accor’s hotels are adapting.
With the reduction in non-essential business trips, panellists hope that the future of corporate travel would be more sustainable.
Thorsen said: “I made my own sustainable travel policy, where I will not be doing any more one-day trips. If I go longhaul, I’m setting the limit at eight hours, and only if the longhaul trips are for a week or longer. I will not be doing those crazy two- or three-day longhaul trips, primarily for sustainability reasons.”
He hoped to see travel emissions fall by 50 per cent or more post-pandemic, and for corporate travellers to accept greater costs in order to support green travels.
There are signs that the industry is moving in the appropriate direction. Concepcion opined that the future of corporate travel will be “very traveller-specific driven” as individuals are more aware of sustainability due to the pandemic, and seek compliance.
Concepcion said: “What we do when we meet with suppliers is we review with them Novartis’ green expectations, and provide a document that tracks how they are contributing to (Novartis’ goal of being carbon neutral by 2030.”
Meanwhile, Healy shared that Accor has also appointed a chief sustainability officer who will work on bolstering the company’s green credentials, which will in turn boost the hotels’ standing when pitching for a corporate travel programme.