There were more than 400 registrants for the recent Connect Travel virtual roundtable— “Re-Connect” with industry leaders to hear how events will evolve moving forward—and the count continued to grow even as the discussion began. Those who attended were among the first to learn that the U.S. Travel Association announced that it will coordinate with the Connect Travel to co-locate several events around IPW 2021, which is slated to take place on Sept. 18-22 in Las Vegas. (The full story is located elsewhere in this issue of INBOUND.)
Discussing the US Travel and Connect Travel move, as well as a number of other topics, were: Carylann Assante, CEO, Student & Youth Travel Association; Peter J. Pantuso, president & CEO, American Bus Association; Will Seccombe, president & CEO, Connect Travel; and Malcolm Smith, senior vice president business development & IPW general manager, U.S. Travel Association.
Moderator for the session was Shari Bailey, vice president, Connect Travel, and general manager, Connect Travel Events. (Photo)
1. A virtual component was a huge part of the way business was conducted in 2020. Every major conference, at some point, had a virtual component.
2. “Virtual” will continue to be with us in the near-term. However, it will be adapted to new realities, such as health and safety protocols that are likely to be changed from time to time.
3. Because virtual events have proved to attract and warrant attention from professionals across a wide swath of the travel and tourism industry, Connect Travel will be conducting weekly virtual round table discusses “for as long as we need to be connected.”
4. With most business and organizations operating on greatly reduced budgets and less income, meeting and event planners are finding creative ways to enable more people to attend face-to-face events.
5. Look for all major travel and tourism industry events to increase the educational components—both virtual and onsite—at their trade shows as they seek for ways to add value to their attendance and participation.
6. At meetings and conferences in the future, look for hosts and organizers to a far greater number of contact-less features and services—box lunches in place of buffet lines, etc.
Shari Bailey: “Is virtual something that goes away in 2021 or 2022? Or is it a hybrid model that something that is here to stay forever?”
Malcolm Smith: “Virtual is with us for a while. It’s going to be part of 2021. It’s going to be dialed up at times. It’s going to be dialed down—depending on audience, time of year, and so forth.”
Peter Pantuso: “Virtual is always going to be there. It’s not going away. It’s going to change how we do business going forward. We had our show (ABA Maketplace) in January. That was before COVID came or anybody knew about it. But, since that time, we’ve done over a hundred webinars as a way to engage with all of our members. Next year, we will have a virtual component that leads into the in-person component in June … it’s always going to be part of what we do going forward.”
Carylann Assante: “You can now extend your conference with (additional) opportunities and not worry about paying lots of fees for speakers on site. I like to think of it as, maybe, a silver lining in the form of things that we never did before that add value.”
Will Seccombe: “In terms of content, no one is no longer limited to two or three days on site. Really, what we’re seeing in these pandemic times is that the marketplace is changing so fast. … I think what we’re going to see, industry-wide—in the travel industry and in many other industries—is that ongoing education is going to be more and more important.”
Malcolm Smith: “I think a challenge going into 2021 for all of us who are doing anything—virtual webinars and so forth—is the challenge to keep people engaged because there is fatigue with Zoom calls and virtual conferences. So, how do you keep the person engaged?”
Peter Pantuso: “You’ve got to keep it (marketing) going. I know that some companies don’t that; it’s one of the first things they cut. People need to be prepared for recovery and we’re all in the business— especially in the group travel business that we’re all part of—of planning long term. That planning process has already started. I can tell you: some of our larger tour operators are putting out their catalogs and they’re doing sales for 2022. if you’re not in the game, if you’re not selling and marketing right now, regardless—I understand budgets are tight, but if you’re not in that space you’re already done for 2022, let alone 2021.
Malcolm: Smith: “We’re in such an unusual time that we are in the depth of a crisis that we know it’s going to get worse in the next few months—but we’ve never been in a position where we know, as we do now, that there is a big rebound coming and we can almost pinpoint the date of it. it’s basically starting the second quarter of 2021 and starting to roar in third and fourth quarter of 21.
Will Seccombe: “There are consumer behaviors that will be with us forever that have changed as a result of COVID-19. Our personal comfort zones and our personal space has widely expanded. There are things that we are going to have to do, even if we have a vaccine. People are going to be more cautious. Our opportunity as leaders in the travel industry to demonstrate as much as possible that you can travel safely, that you can show people you can meet safely and that you can still have extraordinary experiences.”
Carylann Assante: “I’m wondering, when we finally get face-to-face, if no one’s going to want to go into to go into an education room because they haven’t seen any body for so long.