As leisure travel not only returns, but is breaking pre-pandemic booking records, one question comes to mind – when will the same happen for business travel?
While leisure travel’s mighty return is definitely music to hoteliers years, many properties have relied heavily on business travel to bring in consistent room bookings, host events in their currently vacant meeting spaces, and provide additional spending at the on-site restaurants, bars, and catering services.
Through our chats with those around the industry, strong signs emerge that it is back to business – or almost – for many companies.
“The business travel sentiment from both employers and their employees shows promise in the second half of 2021 and certainly leading into 2022,” Vice President of Business Development for Sabre Hospitality Solutions, Scott Pusillo, said.
And Sabre is not the only one hearing these hopeful messages on demand projections.
The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) has been tracking company sentiment during the pandemic. As of their most recent survey in June 2021, a total of 73% of respondents to their survey said they have resumed non-essential domestic business travel, have decided on or announced a date to resume, or are in the process of determining a date.
With the recent uptick we are seeing for leisure bookings in North America, combined with the staffing shortages many locations are facing, the current climate can be overwhelming. It is essential that in these times hoteliers do not lose sight of prepping for the return of the business segment.
“It is clear that the return of business travel demand is upon us and so now is the time to act,” Pusillo urges.
With some hoteliers proactively working to optimizing future business bookings, there is concern that those who wait for corporate demand to increase before finalizing plans will miss out on valuable long-term corporate contracts that are being negotiated now – not later.
“As business travel is likely to follow similar positive trends that we have already seen in leisure travel, hoteliers should use this time now to get contracts in place, develop their partnership strategies, and prepare for the return of corporate travel demand,” Pusillo said.
On the topic of partnerships, one interesting trend that has caught our attention as we return to some semblance of normalcy is the increased dependence on TMCs and Consortia. Worries of health and safety risks have sharply risen during the pandemic, leading companies and their employees to lean on travel agents for guidance towards accommodations that follow updated corporate compliance parameters.
With the emphasis on corporate travel policy compliance, Sabre Hospitality’s Director of Business Travel Services, Rande Gross, explains that after the events of 2020, “there will be no more millennials that bypass booking on the company portal.” This means participating in the preferred traveler and consortia programs is key.
Gross also notes that what worked pre-pandemic is not necessarily a recipe for TMC and Consortia success now. She advises that you reach out to your Sabre Account Manager or our Sabre Consortia Team for an updated analysis of your market and what programs are best for your property now and as you prepare your 2022 strategy.
This increased reliance on travel agents also makes it crucial that you invest time reviewing your GDS strategy and the media campaigns available within the system. Sabre Spotlight is one advertising option. It provides participating hotels with preferred placement so that your hotel listing appears higher up than non-Spotlight participants when agents search the GDS for your market.
“Spotlight has never been more important,” Pusillo said. “Being front of mind to the agent is critical as they begin placing travelers in the market again.”
And within these program partnerships, communication is key – especially during this recovery stage.
“[Make sure] you are being transparent with your partners around your needs and what opportunities they may be able to provide to help you be successful for the resumption of corporate travel,” Hilton’s Managing Director of Luxury Sales for the Americas, Phillip Peña, said.
Additionally, as travel reemerges, we are seeing steep competition leading to highly competitive pricing – and companies and their employees know it.
“We’re seeing companies be far more willing to be value shoppers at this point because they know there are deals out there to be had,” Head of Global Hotel and M&E Supplier Management at CWT, Nathan Brooks, said.
With bargain hunting on the rise, it is imperative you evaluate your revenue strategies to verify you are still an attractive option for your pre-pandemic regulars as well as those currently evaluating options for new contracts.
“[Make] sure that rates are competitive because we’re seeing relative to the previous corporate negotiated rates, in some cases negotiated back in 2018 or 2019, those rates are less competitive,” Brooks adds.
In tandem with pricing, we recommend that you update your value proposition and associated content.
“As we start to see the demand increase, from a hotel’s perspective, it is important that you differentiate yourselves. I’m not saying by a price point necessarily, but total value equation, in the sense [of] what makes you unique,” Peña said. “Customers are savvy, they have been shopping, so you have to differentiate as to what your offering is versus the competitors.”
Above all else, flexibility is key as our industry (and our beloved travelers) navigate this new normal.
“It’s not a one size fits all approach. You have to be ready for the travelers when they’re ready to travel, where they’re ready to travel, and how they’re ready to consume. It can’t be ‘I’m just going to make sure my corporate negotiated rates are set’ or ‘I’m going to focus on leisure,’” Brooks said. “You have to be prepared for demand to shift, for opportunities to develop, and for the customer that you didn’t think was going to come into the hotel yesterday for them to be ready to come into the hotel today.”
For additional information on preparing your hotel for the return of business travel, take a look at our Sabre Hospitality’s Return of Business Travel Checklist