The Future of Corporate Travel

The Future of Corporate Travel

In this episode we are joined by Timothy Jones, Director of Corporate Travel at Cvent, who shares some predictions about the phased approach on the future of Corporate travel.

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We all know that recovery is on the horizon and corporate travel will eventually resume, but not without some changes. Best practices and safety measures will be part of our lives and it will help in evolving corporate travel. In this episode we talk about how as travelers we will be responsible to make travel not only safe but success in the new world. 

Guest

  • Timothy Jones, Director of Corporate Travel, Cvent

Hosts

  • Brooke Gracey, Senior Manager, Demand Generation, Cvent
  • Cody Liskh, Team Lead, Event Quarterback Team, Cvent

 

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Transcript

Cody Liskh
All right, Tim. Thank you so much for joining the podcast. Can you briefly just tell us a little bit about how you became the director of corporate travel at Cvent 

[email protected]
Sure, Cody, I was working as director of client services at a large travel management company that actually is in the same area as Cvent And I saw the opportunity posted to become the director of corporate travel looked very interesting. I was familiar with Cvent’s Products and offerings, you know, we use them quite a bit at the TMC I was employed with. So, I thought, why not take the opportunity, and here we are. It's been an adventure so far.

 Brooke Gracey
Yeah, so it's a pretty awesome place to work we are super glad to have you on the team. And I understand you've been in the industry for like 30 plus years, and I have to imagine You probably haven't seen anything quite like what we're experienced right now, especially with corporate travel. What makes this current situation so different? 

[email protected]
And you're exactly right Brooke, you know, being in the industry. You know, like many of my colleagues, we've been in the industry for many, many years. You know, I've been in the industry for 30 years And throughout that time, there have been many events, you know, obviously, September 11 variety of diseases previously SARS, H1N1, Ebola, all of these different things. And each of those had a different response, but for the most part, each of those events was relatively short-lived.

And travel came back quickly. Nothing in my recollection that lasted months and months and months and you had such a buildup that this event. 

The big difference, I think, is that there were really known antidotes, if you will, for all of those different situations. So, for example, the different terrorist-related situations. The solution to that is increased security or changing procedures of airport check-in, or with documentation or, you know, the creation of TSA and so forth. 

And travelers, you know, responded well to those quick adjustments and went back to traveling and even with some of the previous diseases They weren't as widespread, you know, I think they were much more concentrated. There were different efforts to contain them and everyone essentially went about their way You know; this is different in that it's spread across the globe relatively quickly. You know, so there's essentially no place on Earth. It was really immune to this particular event. 

The disease has proven very efficient at transmission, you know, obviously airplanes and cruise ships and such, you know, were highlighted in the news for being places that You know, people were wary about going because of the possibility of the transmission. So, it's, it's been very different and, you know, obviously, the fact that there's not a vaccine or a treatment as of yet. I think plays into why this is so different as far as traveling perception. 

Cody Liskh
Yeah, I mean, that's it right there. I think that if we did have some kind of vaccine, we'd be able to have a go-forward plan, but I do want to tap into your experience. without, you know,

Not ever in my experience to everything isn't always 100% positive 100% negative and I imagine that there are some potential benefits that are happening right now. Can you talk about some of the things that you might predict that could be beneficial in the current situation? 

[email protected]
I certainly think there are going to be some beneficial outcomes. Now, obviously, the situation is not what anyone in any way wanted. It's obviously a very horrible situation. Many people have lost their lives and lost jobs and that type of thing. But I do think there are some potential positive outcomes long term for this. I think a renewed sense on it from a traveler perspective of the renewed sense of hygiene and cleanliness, you know, will stay with our psyche for a lot longer than potentially You know, previous diseases or outbreaks. And I think that's a good thing. You know, obviously, when you travel. When you go to get your vaccines, you know, the traditional Hepatitis and Typhoid and get your malaria pills and that type of thing. You usually are given guidance to make sure that you wash your hands, don't drink the water in certain countries, make sure you wash certain fruits and vegetables When you're in other countries. 

 And I think that that practice becomes a lot More lacks to than it should be, you know, people get very comfortable. Things were going great travel was you know booming essentially hotels airlines cruise ships all were full of people for many, many years. And I think some of those cleanliness habits amongst travelers Probably fall by the wayside. So, I think this is obviously a wakeup call for that. And I think that is a good thing, you know, making sure travelers are taking advantage of best practices for cleanliness, that type of thing. 

But I also think it is Going to be good for travelers from the vendor perspective so airlines, car rental companies hotel chains, that type of thing Will also be more vigilant with their cleanliness standards, you know, the hotel room that you go into will probably be as clean as it's ever been in the future airline seats will be You know, much more thoroughly clean than they have been in the past. 

So, I think those things are certainly benefits as to You know, compare them to what the same product was previously.

 You know, the unfortunate thing in this situation is, obviously, you know, aside from the loss of life, a significant downturn in business for the travel industry. So, what has happened in the past in those situations is an order to lure travelers back There’s a renewed focus on customer service. And I think we will start to see that You know, at some point in the future Right now, I think most of the efforts are still focused on cleanliness and disease prevention, but when those restrictions are relaxed by the government authorities around the world. I think airline, hotel chains cruise companies that type of thing is certainly going to put a lot of effort into reassuring, travelers that it's safe. I think there'll be a renewed effort to lure travelers back with different incentives, whether it improves service You know whether there are beneficial pricing deals in the future and now I think that remains to be seen. You know, there's certainly multiple schools of thought on that, obviously. If social distancing is a requirement, you know the fear is that pricing might actually have to be higher than previously thought, just because there are less people you might be able to put on a plane or less people in a hotel and so forth.  

But I think customer service, I think cleanliness, I think all of these have certainly the potential to be improved in the future. 

Brooke Gracey
So cleaner, more customer-focused travel like this, I can get behind.

You know, it sounds like either. It could be a little silver lining to this, and we know that recovery is inevitable right like Corporate travel is going to eventually resume. So how do you think that that's going to happen because it's not like we're just going to turn on the switch right and everything's going to be back to normal? How do you see this kind of phased approach? 

[email protected]
I think it definitely will be a phased approach, not just in travel, but I think life in general, you know, the term. We keep hearing is a phased approach, whether it's a simple trip to the store or barbershop, that type of thing is all phased approach so travel I don't think will be any different. 

I think honestly in this particular scenario leisure travel will bounce back first. You know, there is a lot of interest that has started to materialize on behalf of consumers You know, for what they're going to do for the post-COVID world. I think a lot of people Might still have an apprehension to travel. But I think there's also a lot of people who, as soon as it is safe to do so are ready to start traveling again. 

And it has been reassuring that some recent news stories or releases from travel companies indicate that there is consumer demand that is potentially going to be there. So, for example, in the US.

One of the largest travel management companies has recently released some statistics and it said that people are starting to search for leisure travel opportunities in the fall and early autumn-winter of this year. 

Travel, I think, is going to be very different from the leisure perspective you hear these so-called travel bubbles or what essentially is regional travel. I think it's going to be the norm. So, for example, if you're in the US The searches for travel have been pretty much focused on Hawaii. You know, there certainly potentially will be a renaissance for Hawaii, Mexico. Some of the Mexican resorts, Las Vegas, Orlando, Denver, you know, are all some of the top searches currently for leisure travel and where I think that starts to spill over to corporate travel or in particular meeting and event travel

Are the is the interest in Las Vegas or Orlando, which are obviously very big meeting and event convention cities. So I find that personally reassuring, you know, obviously from a perspective here at Cvent, you know that the cities that host a large portion of meetings and events, you know, is of immediate interest to travelers. So I think those cities certainly have an opportunity to Make the most of the situation as leisure travel starts to return to those places, obviously, they'll have a lot of practice with developing new procedures, whether it's social distance distancing or cleanliness or You know, just making alterations to how casinos work or how resorts working in Orlando, but also those large convention hotels will have practice on You know how to operate, you know, for lack of a better term in the New World, you know, and you're certainly hearing these terms, more and more and you know I think people, to some degree, are probably Fatigued from hearing the new world of the new normal and terms such as that but I think we are going to have to tolerate it for You know, some time, but I think those cities have a unique opportunity. 

And I think that the opportunity for them if they're successful you know obviously businesses will see consumer confidence returning they'll see that travelers are safely Traveling to those cities, I think meetings and events will start to slowly come back You know, the question is what sort of restrictions, whether it be for those whether again it's social distancing or New cleanliness regulations, or other processes that will have to be followed.  

And then, of course, corporate travel. I think it will be mixed in with the conventions and meetings and events. I think the big challenge on all of those aspects is going to be customer tolerance, you know, right now I think people are starting to get anti from being locked down you know cabin fever. I think it's certainly starting to materialize across, not just the US but I think in many other countries. So, I think there will be some pent-up demand, but I also Think that travelers need to be realistic in their expectations, whether it's leisure travel or corporate travel. 

Things are going to be different, at least at the beginning, you know, we have to wear a mask on the airplane or in hotels or in common space. And I think the real success of how quickly travel comes back is how tolerant, we as travelers are of what will be required if everyone stretch to get used to wearing masks and maybe that practice will stay on for some time then, if that's what allows travel to start up again I think people will take advantage of it and just get used to it. 

You know, there are many cultures around the world that have actually been used to wearing face masks for quite some time, many, many years. It's actually been a common sight in many countries across Asia, you know, walking down the street, just in common sight or, you know, half the people are wearing a facemask in some cases it's for disease, some cases it's for pollution You know, there are many different reasons But, you know, obviously, as a culture, they've Adapted to accept it. And I think the big question is whether the world in general is, you know, certainly going to be willing to do that. And our willingness to accept some of those limitations are what is going to determine the success of the efforts to restart travel. 

Cody Liskh
Yeah, I mean, you're absolutely right. I mean, the, the idea of wearing masks to protect yourself is not something new. There are certain Asian cultures that have been doing that for a long time. Well, before the covid19 and to go back to what you said. I really liked what you were, you were saying about Potentially Hawaii, having a new Renaissance I think that people are going to be more comfortable with TRAVELING, MAYBE MORE domestically but still get that, you know, travel bug out of their system and seeing like a tropical location that's still within the United States. I'm thinking that's what I'm going to do personally But, you know, the only way to get to Hawaii is by an airplane And I know the airlines were hit super hard during the pandemic. So what predictions, would you have, you know, for major airlines and how would that have reshaped travel 

[email protected]
Unfortunately, I think it is very difficult to even make predictions for the airline industry, the airline industry is obviously going through What I think is universally accepted as probably the most difficult time in their entire history, and that includes September 11 you know some of the press releases related to corporate earnings, whether it's airlines or hotel chains The common theme seems to be that if you combined September 11 with, you know, the 2008-2009 Economic downturn, as well as some of the other recent events you combine all of those together and this is still a much more significant impact.  

The unfortunate thing is you see with almost, you know, alarming frequency every few days, a new airline has declared bankruptcy, you know, over the weekend, a major car rental chain declared bankruptcy. I think, unfortunately, at some point maybe one of the hotel brands would probably do the same. So I think for the foreseeable future, there is going to be some Turmoil in travel in general, not just airlines, I think the governments around the world are doing what they can to either participate in the bankruptcy process by providing loan guarantees or grants or You know, some sort of other financial assistance that will help the carriers survive the bankruptcy process restructure their debt restructure their employee count and employee benefits payroll, etc., etc. 

But I think that process is going to take some time, you know, the bankruptcy process, you know, for an airline is usually several month processes you know, you know, up to even potentially up to the 18-month process, depending on how large the carrier is how much debt they have And I think it's going to be a very difficult process for all parties involved. So obviously, they're going to be employee reductions Probably at, at most, if not all, of the airlines around the world, not just in the US, you know, this is truly a growth by the defense. So I think, you know, each country has its own specific challenges And the new country is immune to that, you know, you've seen airlines from all corners of the globe file for their equivalent of bankruptcy protection. 

In cases Where the government has the means to assist, they've been doing so in some cases, the government body of that country Is choosing not to provide any sort of assistance. I certainly think that will make a big impact as to which of these carriers survive.  

I think it is very likely that not all of the carriers will survive. I think that can be said of any component of the travel industry, you know, obviously, it's going to be A very painful lesson and the strong survive, you know, the survival of the fittest. I think that has the potential like we talked about earlier to be beneficial in some ways, you know, I think, the hope is that whatever companies, you know, are able to navigate through this time come out of the situation, stronger, both financially and from a Perspective, all the way around They come out stronger for their employees, stronger for customers.

Stronger for their vendors and suppliers, but I think it is going to be certainly a very challenging road, but obviously Having worked in the industry for so long, I think that we will survive it. I am certain of that. It's just a matter of what the industry Will need to do to adapt and the industry has always found a way to adapt. I don't think this will be any different. It will just be potentially more challenging. 

But you know the employees in this industry are very dynamic. We've all been through many different scenarios, obviously, like I said earlier, none of us have seen something quite like this.

But I think we will come out of it and will come out of it potentially stronger. 

Brooke Gracey
Love the message of hope, Tim. It's really is inspiring and you know I know we're all looking forward to getting back out there doing some travel But I have to imagine you know the whole social distancing right it's not going to go away.

So, once we start getting some of that traction back to the new normal. How do you think that social distancing is going to play a part in our travel habits? I guess what I'm asking. Tim is are the middle seats going to be open on all the airlines now.

[email protected]
So that's, you know, obviously a very interesting point. And it's been debated hotly from both sides. You know, there are many people that are proposing that obviously, we need to forever change the way we do everything not just travel, whether it's shopping at the store, whether it's travel or just the way we live our daily lives. 

You know, I think it is certainly an eye-opening challenge and opportunity at the same time.

And, you know, our CEO Reggie, you know, I agree 100% with his comments that I think it is human nature. I completely agree with him that it's human nature that we want to meet Whether that's for a formal business meeting or convention or just a small family gathering. I think human nature Is what's going to drive travel is we all like traveling, we want to go somewhere different and experience new cultures something different, new food, new people, a new language. 

But we also like familiar We want to go visit friends and family and do the things that we're currently not able to do. As we've been saying I think they're going to be some challenges, you know, so whether the restrictions stay in place for a long time, or whether they are become permanent, whether that's facemasks requiring some sort of social distancing. 

I think it will be very interesting to see how we as humans adapt and it's not again unique to any specific country but just us as a people, you know, other people around the world. We all have different perspectives on this, and you know one of the things in my past that I've been trained on is cultural differences and in each culture, there are different accepted standards for social distancing either. 

 There are many cultures in the world That you know you stand right next to each other and you're having a conversation. And then there are other cultures That you know the polite thing to do is just and further apart. So the fact that social distancing might be required, whether from a health perspective or from a regulation perspective You know that's going to have an impact on those social norms, some of which have been in place for many decades, many centuries, even, you know, you become Its part of the culture, you know, many cultures in Europe, the traditional greeting was a hug and maybe even, you know, kiss on the cheek. You know, other cultures It's a handshake. I think that something potentially might go away permanently, for example, the handshake. 

There's been many stories that the handshake, you know, might never return it. it might become taboo from a health perspective, from this point forward. And a lot of companies from a professional standpoint, and I think a lot of individuals might go the route of adopting the bow or anonymous day you know, greetings and I think that you know, those type of things might certainly work their way into cultures where they were not traditionally prevalent. 

Which you know again isn't a bad thing, I think, you know, that's just something different. You're still showing the same respect the shame camaraderie. It's just in a different way than you're used to. So, I think that greetings and those types of things will remain part of our culture. But I do think they potentially are going to become different. 

As far as travel that's you know what we're talking about that's going to be a real challenge. So, the middle seat conversation, for example Obviously, from a perspective of disease prevention, you know, it's easy to look at it and say, from a disease prevention point of view Maybe we need spacing.

But in all reality, leaving the middle seat doesn't provide the six feet of spacing is the current guidance you know the seats are essentially only 18 inches across 17 or 18 inches across So that's only a foot and a half-space between the window in the aisle seat so that doesn't even meet the requirement. 

I think the middle seat concept is great from a comfort point of view, a lot of passengers will certainly feel more comfortable from that perspective, but whether it actually is achieving anything medically are scientifically You know, I think that is certainly still being studied. 

But then the other side of that sort of ties into what you're talking about a moment ago and that is the financial element. The unfortunate thing is you know planes were designed to see a certain number of passengers airline fares are designed based on You know, a certain percentage of the seats on the plane being filled and you know just from a mathematical perspective in economy class The middle seat accounts for You know, a Third of the seats that are available. So, 33% of the seats in economy class are our middle seat 66% are obviously aisle or window seats. 

So, the, the financial impact of that You know, it doesn't mean that your fares will have to be 33% higher to account for seats being left empty purposely. I've even seen some potential new seats designed to do. They have seats with, you know, plastic around the head to prevent direct breath or, you know A breathing or airspace contact between the passengers. I've seen some innovative designs for the aisle and window seats are facing forward in the center seats are facing to the rear of the plane You know, to maximize sort of separation. 

Obviously, any of those would be extremely costly for an airline to retrofit a plane. You know, you look at any of the major carriers in the US and they have a fleet of 300 to 500 airplanes. So, to retrofit each of you know several hundred airplane fleets with brand new seats and then essentially just discard the seats that you have you know already purchased is obviously going to be very expensive.  

So, at some point that will have to be passed to the customer. Or the alternative is at some point, do the restrictions or guidance Become more relaxed and we go back to essentially the way things used to be. I don't know if there is a definitive answer Now, I think there's still a lot of study going on as far as the disease itself out transmits how that can be mitigated. 

And I think the results of that are obviously going to play a huge impact on what the travel industry does how airlines move forward, you know, the long term so Let's say we exit the pandemic It's finally eradicated at some point or, or, you know, it does become seasonal like other diseases You know, how will we deal with it each time it comes back. Or how will we deal with the next significant disease that comes along, you know, hopefully, will be many, many years away. 

But I think there's a lot of uncertainty as to what the correct way to do it will be. And I think there's

Certainly, a lot of room for input, you know, the medical community is certainly being called upon to give their expertise in the area. 

Obviously, governmental authorities are relying on that to make regulation and then the airline hotel companies cruise lines, etc. are all complying with those regulations.

But I think travel, you know, for the short term will certainly change how it changes long term I think still remains to be seen. But It will be it will certainly look different for some time. 

Cody Liskh
Yeah for sure things are going to be very interesting. And we'll, we'll just have to kind of wait and see I think in some aspects. But, Tim It's been so great to have you on the podcast I got to ask you, our favorite question if you had to leave one takeaway or piece of advice for listeners on the future of corporate travel, what would that be? 

[email protected]
I think it would again be to reiterate Reggie’s underlying opinion about us as the human species. I completely again agree with his comments that We as humans thrive interacting with each other. And I think for corporate travel That really is what's in the back of all of our minds.  

I've spoken with many of my colleagues, you know, the Manage manager of corporate travel and other companies And we all know the travel will return at some point, how it looks, How soon it returns, How large of a program will return compared to what it was prior to COVID19 All of that obviously is still up for debate or the jury's out on that.  

But I think at the end of the day, whether it's meetings and events or corporate travel there is still significant value for in-person communication in-person meetings. I think you know, obviously, the different web products for meetings have served their purpose. They've done very well we've obviously stayed in touch. You know, all of the companies in the world have stayed in touch. During this process and some companies might adopt that permanently. But I think a majority of companies globally are going to want your resume in-person meetings because I think there is a level of camaraderie a level of improved efficiency by having a face to face communication.  

I think some of the cultural norms I think would be very difficult to change it. I think that's what's powering many people's desire To get back to travel, whether it's for leisure or business purposes is we've been trained our whole life That the best way to communicate amongst each other is in person, you know, obviously, we can make do with internet meeting but you know the culture in business has always been, you know, for that The big deal You want to close to go in person, you know, have You know, potentially lunch with a client or with a vendor or the prospect. I think those things will return the obviously need to be modified for some period of time, but I think Our, our culture and our habits you know are going to really want those to return. 

I don't think we will think will be creative in ways we can get back to those things. But I don't think we will want those pieces of our culture to die as a result of the Other pandemic. You know, we've had many other things that have impacted travel meetings in the past and we've always found a way to come back and I don't think this will be any different. I think it certainly is more challenging and potentially, you know, as we've talked about will be a phased approach. So, I think there's going to be You know, some periods that it's not going to be as comfortable as it normally is or was. But I think at some point, there's a desire in most of us, if not all of us to get back to meeting with others that in person, whether it's one on one or with large meetings or conventions. 

Cody Liskh
Tim Thank you so much for your insights and predictions. This has been so great to have you on the podcast