By Daniel Melnyk
While hospitality brands are well accustomed to seasonal peaks and declines in demand, the prolonged stand-still brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic was a rude – if not entirely devastating – awakening. Around the world, citizens canceled trips, tightened their social bubbles, brought their work home for the foreseeable future, and, most importantly, became accustomed to a socially-distanced way of living. At the same time, airport terminals resembled a post-apocalyptic movie set – desolate and quiet. Hotels remained uncharacteristically empty, roads emptied of their usual rush hour traffic, concert venues locked their doors, and weddings, celebrations, and other events were canceled or rescheduled rapidly.
To this effect, virtual events saw a growth of 1000% throughout the pandemic, and, during that time, 56% of employees surveyed reported being on camera during meetings for 1 to 3 hours a day, with over 30% reporting in the higher ranges, up to 8 hours per day (Virtira). Virtual meetings and events were suddenly all the rage, and the hospitality industry had to shift gears to adapt to the changing environment quickly. But now, in the post-pandemic landscape, the question on hoteliers’ minds and organizers is this: are digital meetings and events still preferred now that the dust has settled, or have live events officially returned? More importantly, what does the group sales landscape look like in 2023, and how can hotels and venues position their properties to capture (and delight) group business?
1. The Post-Pandemic Zoom Fatigue
The popularity of Zoom catapulted seemingly overnight as news of the pandemic spread, and companies issued work-from-home directives to their staff. In May 2020, Zoom saw an average of 200 million daily meeting participants; by June, that number had increased to 300 million. But after two years of virtual everything (events, weddings, conferences, meetings, family reunions, etc.), it appears people are again eager to abandon Zoom in favor of in-person events. To this effect, research from Virtira Consulting revealed that nearly half of professionals working remotely (49%), which translates to 32 million individuals, reported high exhaustion as a direct result of numerous daily video calls. Referred to as “Zoom fatigue,” the exhaustion stems from increased meetings and the pressure to have webcams on for all of them.
To this effect, Knowland’s 2021 report, “The State of the Meetings Industry,” predicted that nearly 80 percent of meetings would take place in-person – with only 8 percent expected to be virtual and 11 percent hybrid. In 2023, it appears that the trajectory will continue, with planners returning their focus to live events in response to attendees’ desire for in-person connection and engagement. As pandemic-related fears continue to fade into the rearview and travel and meeting restrictions are eliminated around the globe, companies and planners now have the green light to finally get people back together in person – an experience which, as we learned, is hard to effectively emulate via the virtual platforms that took over during the pandemic. This is great news for hotels, as the surge in demand for in-person events and meetings translates to a significant increase in group business revenue.
2. Revenge Travel – Yes, It’s a Thing
The appetite for travel isn’t just back – it’s entirely revitalized. As the age-old adage suggests, sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. After two years of prolonged isolation, individuals and families around the world are, quite simply, tired of being stuck at home and in the market for a change in scenery. More importantly, they are increasingly eager to make up for lost time and canceled trips, so the ‘revenge travel’ trend is born. In simple terms, travelers around the globe are ready to ‘get their revenge’ against the limitations endured throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by jumping at any opportunity for in-person events and travel. Not only that, but due to the unexpected nature and unprecedented severity of the pandemic, many travelers are now adhering to a ‘travel while they can,’ just in case the ability to do so is once again taken away with little notice.
Within this trend, hotels see an uptick in destination weddings, offsite business events/meetings, conferences, and more. Those properties that lean into the group segment and offer unique experiences will reap the rewards of this pent-up demand for travel-related experiences.
3. ‘Laptop Lugging’ and Blended Travel
In case you missed it, on-site work is out, and remote work is in. The pandemic made way for a paradigm shift in professional norms, specifically in the work-from-home department. While many companies have welcomed their employees back into the office, they are now offering greater flexibility in the workplace. With this in mind, many employees are now given the option to only come into the office part-time or, in some cases, work from anywhere moving forward. As a result, the ‘bleisure’ trend has since evolved into the ‘laptop lugging’ and ‘blended travel’ trend, which sees employees extending trips now that they can work from remote destinations.
4. Millennials are Taking Over
Millennials (the generation of individuals currently between 40 and 22 years old) now represent the largest segment of the U.S. labor force. Due to this, many companies are actively tailoring their policies and events according to their millennial employees’ preferences. As you might have guessed, millennials now make up the majority of events and meeting crowds. With this in mind, it’s increasingly essential for events (and, by proxy, hotels and venues) to cater events to a millennial audience. Millennials, as we know, have a voracious appetite for travel, actively seek out experience-based offerings, and are highly technologically literate. This is great news for hotels and venues, as it means millennial employees are now a key player in the shift to prioritizing in-person events, meetings, and experiences.
5. An Uptick in Smaller Groups and Meetings
According to a study conducted by Cvent and GBTA in April 2021, small meetings could recover faster than large events. Fifty-two percent of respondents anticipate that the number of small in-person meetings (with 50 or fewer attendees) at their companies will return to the pre-pandemic level within a year. Small group business is still, in fact, big business, and hotels and venue spaces should be aware of the value this segment offers their bottom line. More importantly, this segment is easy business to win with automation, and hotels and venue spaces can set their properties up for success by leveraging technology that automates otherwise time-consuming manual processes. By tapping into the power of automation, properties can easily win small group business. At the same time, their sales talent is liberated to focus on larger, more high-touch accounts and big-ticket events.
With the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic finally behind us, 2023 will be a momentous year for group business within the hospitality industry. Understanding the emerging, industry-defining trends – and adopting the right demand generation technology marks a critical step in the right direction for hotels and venues eager to capitalize on demand and better serve their group business segment.