TORONTO – Every part of the movement is going well in what has been, so far, the first steady year since the pandemic began.
During the “Traveler Trends: Emerging Insights and Opportunities for Growth” panel at HSMAI’s 2023 Revenue Optimization Americas conference, ALHI-Associated Luxury Hotels International President and CEO Mike Dominguez said that group travel is “going backwards,” due to high-flying partnerships.
“What we’ve seen is very important, and I think this is a big warning, and the organizations that have been on the sidelines are now coming back and coming back strongly,” he said.
Not only are these organizations planning to travel this year, but they are also looking to the future. Companies are focusing on uniting their teams, even at the cost, as there haven’t been many opportunities to do so in recent years, Dominguez said.
“Because we haven’t seen a slowdown on the team side right now… this is the first time we’ve had a very low economic outlook where travel, meetings and events, it doesn’t seem like a good idea,” he said. “This is very much related to the epidemic when you talk about companies that are experiencing productivity, hiring, many new employees. … There is a need to bring people together.”
Dominguez said the hotel industry “is off to a good start,” meaning that the business cannot be discussed as a whole but rather in parts. Group travel, for example, has many difficulties due to meetings planned at the beginning of the epidemic being pushed back, more meetings being planned now and lack of resources.
There isn’t much relief in this stalemate from the planners, he said. Three out of 10 organizers have not yet created events that were adapted during the pandemic, and availability is not growing fast enough to match demand.
Organizers have to book longer and longer to deal with the pressure, Dominguez said. This means making future decisions that are not related to the current situation, because they are sure to change in 12 to 18 months.
The return of business travel is slower than the rest period after the fall, but the shift to remote work and the lack of return to the office created a big challenge to recover from the depth of the COVID-19 epidemic, the head of the Global Business Travel Association Suzanne Neufang said.
Business travel has never hit a deeper trough than in 2020, when it fell 54% for the entire year, he said. The GBTA is optimistic about the future of the sector going forward, though, thinking it will end 2023 at 80% of pre-pandemic levels after 2022 at 65%.
Full recovery from the pre-pandemic is expected to occur by mid-2026, Neufang said. In a GBTA study conducted, US companies are traveling at 77% of the level they were in 2019 and spending 68% more on these trips.
The no. 1 reason for visiting a business today is sales, and No. The 2nd reason is meeting our other colleagues, a part of the sector that remains strong despite the change in office culture, he said.
“The battle for talent does not happen in your office at your desk, in your living room; It happens when I live abroad and build culture and preserve culture,” he said.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Asia-Pacific region has been spending heavily on business travel, Neufang said, adding that it accounts for 50% of all travel spending.
Nine out of 10 American travelers have plans to take a vacation in the next six months, Longwoods International President and CEO Amir Eylon said, citing his company’s American Traveler Sentiment and Travel USA studies.
“It’s been consistent all year,” Eylon said. “Even if it’s completely toxic [talk] etc., the demand is still high.”
Recreational travel is starting to stabilize, he said. The main reasons for leisure travel this year are visiting friends or family, shopping and going to the beach or on vacation.
However, hoteliers should not forget about COVID-19, said Eylon. About 30% of American travelers are changing travel plans because of the virus. Of those who are changing their plans, 19% are choosing to stay in the US, 15% are choosing to drive instead of flying, and 14% are reducing the number of trips they take.
Since COVID-19 is still on the minds of some travelers, hotels need to maintain their health, he said.
“Keep your clean programs in there wherever you can. “Make sure housekeeping is easily accessible,” Eylon said. “Since the pandemic, cleanliness has become synonymous with safety, so it’s important not to give up on cleanliness.”
Another trend to follow is the economy’s impact on travel, Eylon said. Rising prices and the threat of a recession have rattled the industry for months, but not enough to slow the flow.
Instead of cutting prices, hotels should emphasize promotions that bring in guests while keeping prices the same, he said. Only 5% of respondents said they would cancel all trips due to rising prices.
“The traveler is set on high fares, so don’t focus on the discount, focus on the value,” he said. “Everything costs a lot of money; he is fine with it. They are not canceling their trips, they are just changing their money.”
Another thing should be to improve services, he said. About 61% of travelers expect the same jobs as before the pandemic, although the number of workers in all industries is decreasing.
Travelers will break loyalty if they don’t receive the service they expect, so hotels need to know how to deal with staff issues using technologies like mobile keys and robotic vacuums.
“We know your reality, we know that the workers’ problems exist, but the traveler tells us again and again: ‘We don’t want to hear anymore,'” he said.
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