Following group travel trends over the past couple of years has been a rollercoaster. Between fluctuating national priorities and the uncertainty posed by an ongoing global pandemic, the business of organizing and hosting events is a new ballgame with entirely new rules.
Living and working during the pandemic has made digital meeting and event tech solutions a necessity, and the hospitality industry continues to make changes that create better ways to conduct events, and business. And along the way come trends in travel, born from lifestyle changes and destined to become part of our norms. Read along as we uncover three group travel behaviors that will change the way hoteliers and organizers will work in 2022.
Trend #1: Virtual event aversion – signaling the return of live events
After nearly two years of forced virtual conferences, meetings and get-togethers, people are eager to meet in person as they did pre-pandemic. In Knowland’s 2021 report, “The State of the Meetings Industry,” more than 450 meeting planners specified that for 2022, they expect nearly 80 percent of meetings to take place in-person – with only 8 percent expected to be virtual and 11 percent hybrid.
“We’re seeing that, naturally, planners are much more focused on live events than they were at the beginning of the pandemic, when the live events industry virtually crashed,” said Dan Humby, Groups360’s vice president of sales for the European region. At last month’s 2022 International Confex in the UK, Dan spoke to a group of Europe-based event organizers and meeting planners who confirmed that the desire for more live events is indeed a global phenomenon.
“When the pandemic struck, the sharp increase in demand for quarantine-safe events meant that hundreds of new virtual meeting platforms entered the marketplace,” Dan said. “But now that travel and meeting restrictions are easing up across the globe, organizers are searching for ways to get people back together in person again. It’s hard to mimic the effects of in-person events via their virtual counterparts.”
The hospitality industry’s digital transformation has enabled a faster rebound in revenue for hoteliers, and certainly offers better ways to maximize resources and meet the elevated expectations of modern group travel organizers. But alongside video conference fatigue and the failure to recreate the benefits of live events, the aversion to the virtual event as we have come to know it is undisputed.
Trend #2: ‘Revenge’ travel (not as scary as it sounds)
Much like the world’s aversion to virtual events, revenge travel is the result of groups feeling tired of being cooped up at home. Travelers are getting their “revenge,” so to speak, against COVID-19 by taking any chance they can get to leave home and meet in person.
“There’s a rush among consumers to get out and book travel while they can,” said Ryan Morris, Groups360’s vice president of sales for the Americas. “The pandemic’s peaks and valleys have been unpredictable, and people want to spend time together when they can. People are hoping to make up for lost travel time.”
Destination weddings, non-essential business offsites and incentive trips are all back on the books. As groups make a return to in-person meetings (and begin to prioritize travel again), planners will benefit from an online booking platform that makes it easier to source the right hotels for their event.
“People have felt deprived of the world as they know it for over two years. Not only is there a pent-up appetite for travel, but also experiences,” said Dan Humby. “Wise hoteliers can invest in their property’s longevity by devising a plan to invite people back out of their homes and into hotels.”
Trend #3: ‘Bleisure’ turns work trips into a mini vacation
Hoteliers have seen a steady increase in the number of event attendees that want to book additional shoulder nights when traveling for business meetings or events. Instead of choosing between work time and vacation time, employees are asking themselves, why not just do both – from a great hotel destination?
Until recently, companies largely restricted employees from the freedom to choose where they work best. But modern workplaces are open to remote work and flexible work from home policies, which benefits hoteliers as they aim to get back to pre-pandemic business.
“If people can work from home, they can work from a hotel,” said Dan Humby. “This means that hoteliers can benefit from highlighting loyalty programs that incentivize event attendees to book additional room nights and specialty experiences.”
This all translates into a greater demand for digital nomads to enhance their hotel stay. Solutions like GroupSync Housing allow hoteliers to avoid the numerous issues caused by book-arounds, which occurs when event attendees source from their own online travel agency (OTA) instead of booking shoulder nights through the hotel’s own platform. Book-arounds mean that guests are inconvenienced from the get-go and may even book at an entirely different hotel altogether. Investing in the right attendee management solution creates ease and better business for both travel organizers and hoteliers.
How to navigate industry changes like a pro
Hoteliers and group travel planners can make changes today to better position their business for the new frontier of group travel and events.
- Invest in digital platforms that make it easy for group organizers and attendees to work with you. Help group travel organizers make better informed decisions and include transparent pricing information and availability in your listings so you can attract the right business.
- It’s time to give the antiquated spreadsheet an upgrade. With better room block management, you can get to know your guests before they arrive and spend less time managing room blocks.
- Consider using sourcing platforms that value transparency over paid placements. Sourcing is a process that can quickly become overwhelming and takes months when approached with traditional methods. If you’re still searching for destinations on Google, or spamming numerous hotels with your RFP, it’s time to consider an upgrade.
- Ditch the rooming list once and for all. GroupSync Housing provides travel planners with a real-time view of their reservations and attendee progress, offering a much more streamlined process.