In a post-pandemic world, will working from home be a boon for business travel?
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After two years of remote work and return-to-office dates pushed back several times due to COVID-19 surges and variants, many companies are finally getting ready to return to the office this month. However, what that return to work looks like will likely be very different than office life before the pandemic, and since the working-from-home culture took root.
Gone from many companies is the expectation of employees sitting in an office full time. American Express is one company that says hybrid will lead the way, with 40% of its staff working from home in some capacity. Also, many tech companies are making the jump to hybrid and working from home — with one Meta employee telling us she never expects to return to a regular desk in the office again.
Without traditional office culture and business spaces, what does this mean for business travel? Is it the end of work trips and conferences as we know them?
Don’t write off business travel yet. In fact, you may be surprised to hear that many in the industry think the continued trend of working from home could actually be a boost for hotel and travel bottom lines.
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The future of business travel
As Elie Maalouf, CEO of the Americas region for IHG Hotels & Resorts, put it: “There are people who can’t deliver their work on Zoom.”
According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, although big conferences may not be coming back, the trend toward staying in a destination for an extended period beyond a face-to-face meeting is something that will continue to expand throughout 2022.
Working from home, on the road
Sean Hennessey, assistant professor at the New York University School of Professional Studies Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, said that while “it’s a little early to call it a trend, we’re starting to see people, especially in tech where remote work is part of the job, coming in to headquarters and booking [hotel] rooms, creating demand.”
Hennessey added that, as the pandemic fades from view, there will be a more natural inclination to want to see people and to catch up on in-person, day-to-day conversations. Additionally, this incremental demand to meet in person will benefit the hotel community and the supporting travel infrastructure — including rail and air travel and restaurants.
“The hotel markets in a number of cities have rebounded and started to bounce back even though the office occupancy is nowhere where it was, pre-pandemic,” Hennessey stated.
And even though much of that is credited to leisure travelers, there’s an “undercurrent of periodic corporate business and employees coming in monthly and so forth that’s helping to bolster the recovery of the hotel sector,” he says.
‘Bleisure’ travel is here to stay
Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, said “bleisure” travel — in which travelers piggyback leisure and business trips — has been called a “pandemic silver lining.”
“Some travel experts think that fly-to-the-meeting and fly-back-from-the-meeting day trips will become a thing of the past and that multiday bleisure trips will ultimately become ‘the new business trip,’” he explained.
While this kind of extended travel isn’t new, it was more common among younger travelers before the pandemic, said Rogers. Today, it’s more mainstream among business travelers across demographic groups, according to AHLA data. “In fact, one 2021 study of global business travelers found 89% wanted to add a private holiday to their business trips in the next 12 months,” he shared.
This shift is possible, he explained, because companies have become more accepting of employees working on the road and more tolerant of this kind of business travel.
The move to better, longer trips
“We have entered a new business travel frontier,” said Jon Makhmaltchi of J.Mak Hospitality, a sales and marketing consultancy for global travel brands.
According to Makhmaltchi, both leisure travelers and business travelers are spending more, staying in nicer hotels and looking for more residential-style experiences from their hotels.
Business travel “obviously was drastically reduced during the pandemic but travel is back, and corporate travel is back, but altered. We’re finding business travelers taking fewer, better business travel trips, which is also a trend we’ve been seeing in leisure travel,” he added.
Makhmaltchi explained that business travelers who are hitting the road “want comfortable and cool lounges for meetings or to get work done, and now more of their meetings are scattered throughout cities and suburban areas with many people still working from home. We’ve seen that business travelers are willing to stay outside of traditional business districts, instead preferring a destination that offers better, hipper neighborhood shopping, dining, outdoor activities or a bit of fun for them.”
He added: “We have all gotten used to work happening outside office settings so the bar has raised on what those settings are when we’re on the road.”
Featured photo of The Points Guy office in New York in 2019 by Riley Arthur/The Points Guy.
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