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5 Key Takeaways From Last Week’s 2020 Business Travel Show America Virtual Conference

Ovation's 2020 Business Travel Show America virtual boothLast week, Ovation was proud to sponsor and attend the inaugural Business Travel Show America, a Virtual Expo, hosted by the BTN Group (publishers of Business Travel News, Travel Procurement, Business Travel News Europe and The Beat). Over 1,700 corporate travel professionals registered for the 2-day virtual conference which featured live sessions, a virtual “lounge” chatroom and a large Exhibit Hall where attendees could browse booths, chat and meet virtually with Ovation and other travel suppliers.

Per BTN, the event’s goal was to bring “the industry together to realign the future of corporate travel and meetings.”

Of course, right now, the future of corporate travel and meetings hinges largely on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed the way travel buyers look at everything from traveler safety to unused tickets and refunds management to travel budgeting for 2021 and beyond. With that in mind, here are 5 key takeaways from the 2020 Business Travel Show America regarding the current outlook on the future of business travel:

1. Duty of Care Best Practices Are Being Redefined

Most travel decision makers are aware of the need to review and adjust corporate travel policies in light of COVID-19 but there are additional risk management factors to consider beyond policies. In live sessions like “Risk Management Real Talk” which featured speakers from Global Guardian, ISOS and WorldAware, experts discussed how the concept of duty of care is being permanently reframed. For example, organizations were highly encouraged to review - line by line - their insurance policies as they relate to traveling employees to make sure they are covered in times of crisis. Many companies realized too late into the pandemic that they didn’t have the coverage they needed.

2. Some Hotels Plan to Roll Their Corporate Negotiated Rates from 2020 to 2021

Following the lead of InterContinental Hotels Group, who announced in May, Marriott is planning on rolling over their corporate hotel negotiated rates from 2020 to 2021. This unprecedented move to roll over negotiated rates comes as little surprise, though, considering the ongoing effects of COVID-19 on the travel industry and overall global economy. Current challenges include the inability (for both hotels and corporate buyers) to anticipate 2021 demand along with the obstacle hotels face in attempting to manage a full RFP season given limited staffing.

3. Environmental Sustainability and Social Responsibility Remain High Priorities

Travel suppliers and travel buyers alike remain committed to advancing environmental best practices industry-wide and to furthering social responsibility initiatives. This includes, but also goes beyond, controlling greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the BTN Group pledged a portion of the show’s proceeds to ECPAT-USA, the leading anti-trafficking policy organization in the United States. Some travel decision makers shared their organizations' corporate social responsibility goals and initiatives which included tracking, offsetting and committing to reducing carbon emissions year-over-year with an ultimate goal of 0% by 2050 (in keeping with the Paris Agreement) as well as collaborating with suppliers to identify and implement practices and programs to build a sustainable future.

4. A Digital Transformation

Pre-COVID the travel industry was focused on advancing technologies to streamline and automate the end-to-end travel experience. That focus on tech innovation may have shifted for a while as the industry responded to the immediate concerns of the pandemic. Now, the focus on leading-edge technology is back. For travelers, this means advances in mobile and online booking that will further personalize options, speed approvals, promote safety and save valuable time. For travel managers this means new and improved integration of processes and technologies at every level of program management (think policy enforcement, trip approvals, expense management, reporting, analytics, vendor negotiations, risk management, etc.) to reduce the manual time involved and increase overall control.

5. All in All, It Was a Great (Virtual) Show

Going into a 2-day virtual tradeshow focused 100% on the corporate travel and meetings industry, we had our concerns. Would the technology glitch? Would attendees be distracted or fail to show up? Would we make real human connections? The answer to all of those questions was “yes”. Yes, the virtual sessions and chat technology glitched here and there, and people were understanding. Yes, some attendees probably were distracted, and some registrants probably didn’t attend after all, but plenty of people did, and we were so glad to meet everyone who dropped by the Ovation booth to say hello. Yes, we made real human connections, which is always the goal when you attend a tradeshow - virtual or in-person. Of course, we all look forward to a time, hopefully in the very near future, post-COVID, when we can all literally be together for an event like this. We look forward to meeting some of you at the next one, and at the opening night reception we can raise a glass and cheers to the future of business travel.