Industry Leaders Make Compelling Case for Full Return of Business Travel and Events

September 21, 2021

In what was perhaps the strongest argument to date calling for the full return of in-person professional gatherings, leaders from the business and travel sectors joined together Sept. 15 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to deliver a powerful, data-driven, science-backed message: Travel for and participation in professional meetings, exhibitions and events can safely resume, and doing so will significantly accelerate America’s economic recovery.  

Under the Let's Meet There initiative, the broad alliance included representatives of the American Society of Association Executives, ClearDestinations International, Events Industry Council, Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance, International Association of Exhibitions and EventsMeetings Mean Business CoalitionMeeting Professionals InternationalProfessional Convention Management Association and U.S. Travel Association

The spotlight was drawn to the importance of business travel to the U.S. economy and the necessity of its return, the distinctions between professional meetings and events (PMEs) and other “large events,” scientific data and modeling that prove PMEs are safe, dozens of events that have been safely conducted in recent months and health and safety tools to help the industry move forward. 

“Every piece of evidence that we’re seeing from the scientific and academic community tells us that, with the right practices in place, the traveling workforce and organizers of professional events can get back to the business of reconnecting with clients and colleagues,” said Roger Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel. “Ultimately, the business community will drive the return to business travel, and in doing so, will shift the economy back to greater normalcy.”

Economic Picture

Adam Sachs, CEO of Tourism Economics, addressed the sizeable impact of business travel and PMEs on the U.S. economy and its positive correlation to business profitability and productivity with some sobering statistics from Oxford Economics: In 2019, domestic business travel and PMEs generated $270 billion in direct travel spending and $338 billion in indirect spending, supporting 4 million jobs, while in 2020, the amount of direct spending shrunk by $211 billion or 68 percent. Without focused efforts to help the sector rebound, the forecast predicts it will take three more years to rebuild to pre-pandemic levels. 

“When we look forward, we forecast out based on current recovery rates and what's going on in the economy, and before we get fully whole in business travel and [PMEs] by 2024, we may have lost $522 billion in direct spending—that’s a half-trillion dollars gone over this recovery period, and you can add to that another $77 billion from the international business travel market,” Sachs said. “So, there's a lot at stake right now.”

Sachs also shared the following statistics based on the current climate:

  • 65% of companies were engaged in domestic business travel as of August, but intentions to continue traveling over the next three months have waned due to concerns over the Delta variant. (Source: Global Business Travel Association)
  • Group hotel room demand is roughly 55% of 2019 levels as of September. (Source: STR)
  • For every dollar invested in business travel, U.S. companies have experienced a $5.90 (or 590%) return in revenue, and U.S. business travel has yielded $1.60 in profits for every dollar spent. (Source: Oxford Economics)

“Even in these challenging times, these statistics [for revenue and profits] show that the health, productivity and innovation of businesses are directly tied to the ability to travel, meet, share ideas and promote products and services,” Sachs added.

Evidence-Based, Low Health Risks

Sachs also highlighted data from several sources indicating that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is significantly lower for PME attendees than that of the general population based on the following current full vaccination rates:  

  • 65% of U.S. adults (Source: CDC)
  • 72% of U.S. travelers (Source: Destination Analysts)
  • 78% of U.S. business travelers (Source: Destination Analysts)
  • 92% of U.S. adults with a college degree (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

“We see that clearly as you skew toward business travel, particularly toward meetings, conventions and trade shows, where higher education is widespread, you’re in an environment that is largely safe compared to the general population,” Sachs explained.

Echoing that sentiment, U.S. Travel’s Dow pointed to recently released data from healthcare scientists at The Ohio State University, which noted that PMEs are not super spreader events because they are well-controlled, monitored events that adhere to strict health and safety protocols. 

“The science has held true,” Dow said. “These events are taking place safely because we now have much more knowledge and many more tools than when COVID first started, and it's an industry wide-commitment to make them both safe and productive.”

Additionally, recent independent studies from the Mayo ClinicHarvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the U.S. Department of Defense validate the safety of air travel today based on current health and safety protocols.

Meanwhile, Epistemix, a computational modeling software company, has been working with the events industry over the past nine months through the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance (ECA) to perform several studies on the safety of events. The studies have determined that implementing protocols based on current COVID-19 conditions created environments that make events safe for attendees and the communities in which they are held. The scientific modeling by the ECA and Epistemix has shown that in-person PMEs pose a near-zero (0.001%) risk of COVID-19 transmission to attendees. 

John Cordier, CEO of Epistemix, provided one example of an event in Philadelphia, during which daily cases per 1,000 people were 4.5 for city residents, 3 for attendees at the event with no safety protocols in place and .7 for attendees with several safety protocols in place. The result was a four-times reduction in the risk of getting infected at the event with protocols such as mask-wearing and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, among others, which is even below the CDC guidelines for too much transmission in a given area, according to Cordier.

“The events industry is actually able to lead by putting these protocols in place and not only getting the attendees behind them, but the exhibitors and the event staff as well, and it’s not leading to driving cases out into the community,” Cordier said. “With that risk reduction, we’ve already been able to see more than 300 events happen safely in the U.S. this year alone.”

Events Running Safely

Several of those events have been staged by Emerald, a leading B2B exhibitions organizer. Since January, it has safely and successfully run dozens of B2B trade events and conferences across a diverse cross-section of industries. Emerald’s NY NOW and JA New York were the first two in-person events to run at New York City’s newly expanded Javits Center since its closing due to the pandemic, as well as Outdoor Retailer at the Colorado Convention Center. Emerald plans to hold more than 15 B2B in-person trade events across the U.S. before the end of the year.

“We engaged with Epistemix because we believe that we need the science to lead us even more to how we're going to safely open events,” said Hervé Sedky, chair of the board of ECA and president and CEO of Emerald. “We now have a really strong modeling that allows us to adapt the measures to have safe events.” 

The platform is a frictionless approach to verifying health status, whether it’s fully vaccinated or a negative COVID-19 test, according to Seidman-Becker. People enroll once and can use it everywhere, and partners can easily turn different modules on and off depending on their needs.

“We launched a campaign called ‘Come Back Better,’ which really aligns well with the “Let’s Meet There” initiative,” Seidman-Becker said. “We’re partnering with businesses large and small to make sure we never shut down again, and we have to put platforms such as the Health Pass in place in order to ensure that we stay open, that we stay healthy, and that we give consumers the confidence to have safer and easier experiences.”

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.