Roundtable: Business Travel: Has Your Company’s Travel Schedule Rebounded?Jul 21, 2023 01:54PM ● By Linda Persigehl
Business travel—as did all travel—came to a near standstill during the pandemic. But, according to a December 2022 survey of 100 global corporate travel managers conducted by Morgan Stanley Reseach, nearly a quarter of both large and small companies said their firms are back to pre-COVID travel levels, and 34% anticipate a full recovery by end of 2023. But survey results differ. Another report by research company Morning Consult (shared on CNBC’s website) declared nearly one-third of respondents said their companies had changed their business travel policies by reducing the frequency of travel and/or by sending fewer employees on trips. We asked three Omaha metro organizations if their teams were ‘back in the saddle,’ traveling at the frequency and volume they did prior to spring 2020. Or, have they made permanent operational changes, keeping employees closer to home? Contributors are: John Sova, AIA, managing principal at RDG Planning & Design; Madison Arrowsmith, vice president of meetings & conventions, with planit inc; and Mark Eckman, executive director, Council Bluffs Convention & Visitors Bureau.
(Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.)
B2B: Tell us a bit about your company. What are your products/services? Who are your primary customers?
JS: RDG Planning & Design is a nationally recognized, multidisciplinary firm offering professional services in architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, lighting design, strategic planning, urban and comprehensive planning and design, graphic design, engineering, and integrated and public art. Our diverse knowledge and experience and nearly six decades of dedication to success have taken us around the world, and today, our commitment to communication and technology allows us to engage clients anywhere from our offices in Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska.
MA: planit inc. is an event planning firm that has delivered exceptional meetings and events across the globe for our clients ranging from Fortune 500 firms to emerging small businesses. Our range of skills includes meeting and event services, speakers, entertainment, marketing, branding, hotel, convention center, and property management, digital events and technology, show management, and more.
ME: The Council Bluffs Convention & Visitors Bureau is a private nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the city as a destination for travelers. On behalf of the City of Council Bluffs, we employ various sales tactics to book meetings, conventions, and sporting events to be hosted here. The Council Bluffs CVB executes marketing campaigns to attract business, leisure, and other types of travelers to patronize city restaurants, visit local attractions, and fill the community’s 2,674 hotel rooms.
B2B: How large of a role does business travel play in your operations? Have your employees returned to their pre-pandemic travel schedules?
JS: Though we pulled back a great deal during the height of the pandemic, in the past year, we’ve seen our teams return to pre-pandemic levels of travel. As a national firm with active projects in more than 25 states, travel is a mainstay of our day-to-day business and plays an important role in our ability to serve our clients and communities well, whether we’re meeting owners, supporting projects under construction, or traveling to sites to do follow-ups. I’ve seen firsthand how busy airports have been lately, and I think we’re not alone in shifting back to pre-pandemic travel levels.
MA: Business travel is an integral part of our day-to-day business at planit inc. Post-pandemic, we’ve seen a large increase in our team’s travel schedules for client meetings, site visits, and events across the year. 2023 will be our biggest travel year yet, with our team planning about 70% of our book of business outside of our headquarter market.
ME: Business travel has been one of the primary means to conduct sales, advocate for industry policies, and obtain professional development. Bid presentations and sales calls were previously done almost exclusively in-person, whether in the client’s office or at trade shows. Likewise, seminars and continuing education offerings were nearly always out of office and sometimes out of state. In the past 12 months, the CBCVB team has started to do more business travel but much less than we did pre-pandemic. Our ramping back into business travel has been slow but steady.
B2B: How have you changed the way you do business as a result of the pandemic precluding travel? Do you feel your company/industry has been hurt as a result?
MA: Due to the pandemic, we shifted our business to an award-winning initiative titled ‘Meet well. Meet safe,’ which addresses reducing risk and the safety of hosting meetings and events in a post-pandemic world. Our team devoted a large amount of time and resources to ensure our clients didn’t miss a beat in serving their communities and clientele. As the world recovers and more and more companies are shifting back to in-person, our clients are leaning on us to do it the right way, which has made our business stronger than ever.
ME: One of the lessons drawn from the pandemic is efficiency. Do we need to conduct business in person when virtual meetings will suffice? The pandemic forced our organization to prioritize which travel is necessary. Sales certainly rise to the top. After all the recovery in the travel and hospitality industry these past two years, business travel is one area that has failed to bounce back. We see that in the local hotel occupancy rates between Monday through Thursday. The irony is not lost on us that we lament the loss of business travel to Council Bluffs, but aren’t doing more ourselves.
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2023 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.