Inflation and supply chain issues are nagging not only the meetings industry but travel in general, but optimism still reigns supreme.
Reflective on how the meetings and events business is back in full force, the Skift Global Forum is being held this week in bustling New York City, also hosting the UN General Assembly and Climate Week.
More than 700 in-person attendees gathered in The Glasshouse, a new venue in New York City with another 800 online, representing 550 companies from 56 countries. There are more than 22 sponsors, the most ever—a wide range of travel industry insiders presented in short, pithy sessions in the light-filled venue. Innovative food and beverage was offered that was not only healthy but eye catchy.
Conversational-style sessions with top executives dug deep into trends impacting the meetings and events industry. The labor shortage, inflation, geopolitical unrest, and sustainability were issues discussed at length.
The overall sentiment of the conference was group travel is back and will only get stronger. “Future group bookings are solid for the rest of the year, and events that couldn’t take place in 2020 and 2021 are now happening this year and next. We are also seeing a lot more small meetings,” said Keith Barr, CEO of IHG Hotels & Resorts.
China Impacts Convention Comeback
China’s zero-Covid policy is having a significant impact on the industry, that was discussed at length. This impact was demonstrated at the beginning of the month when TCT Asia, a major trade show, was shut down by Shenzhen authorities nine hours before it was set to open due to Covid numbers in the city creeping up to 24.
Staffing Issues Plaguing the Industry
Staffing was top-of-mind of attendees, which held true during an audience poll during a session that featured Joanne Geraghty, president and COO of JetBlue. In the poll, 62.96 percent of audience members ranked staffing as the number one issue they are concerned about, followed by fares at 29.63 percent.
Sustainability a Focus
A session on travel sustainability featured Danielle Bozarth of McKinsey & Company, and Jeff Nieman of Hertz was especially timely as the rental car company announced hours later that it plans to order up to 175,000 General Motors electric vehicles over the next five years.
Seamless Experience Key
Meeting and event planners can appreciate companies that aim to make travel as seamless as possible. That is the goal of the world’s largest travel company Booking Holdings, whose president and CEO, Glenn Fogel, took the stage at the Skift Global Forum.
“When I’m in an unfamiliar city, I want to get a notification from the Booking.com app letting me know about a museum or other experience nearby that I can press a button to book right there,” Fogel said. An attractive feature for meeting and event attendees.
Working From Home a Crock?
In one of the most controversial sessions of the day, Expedia Group Chairman Barry Diller exuded that working from home is “kind of stupid” and “a crock.” There is hardly any innovation to be had “sitting at a laptop computer at a dining room table,” Diller said.
He also added that he thinks corporate travel will return to its former self in 2024. “There is an imperative to see your customers and be out in the world,” he said.
The conversation then turned to Diller’s investment in MGM Resorts International. Diller is the chairman of IAC/Interactive Corp., the largest shareholder of this casino company with a 14 percent ownership stake. “More than 40 percent of every transaction that goes through Vegas goes through one of our properties,” he said, touting its 468 restaurants, 150 performance venues, and more than 4 million square feet of convention space. “Vegas is doing extraordinarily well,” said Diller.
Knowledge is Power
Sandals Resorts International is combatting the issue of qualified staffing by creating the Gordon “Butch” Stewart International School of Hospitality & Tourism. It is the first institute of higher learning aimed exclusively at the study of hospitality and tourism in the Caribbean, where the industry is a main economic driver.
The importance of creating guest experiences is at the core of all The Walt Disney Company does. Next year will be memorable for the company as it celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Another session featured Audrey Hendley of American Express Travel, who reports that travel is back faster and stronger than anticipated. It is also more intentional and purposeful.
Similar to what all the companies presenting at Global Forum shared, American Express is hiring feverishly.
The Great Merging
Like what Skift and Skift Meetings have been reporting on all year, the great merging of lifestyle hotels and co-working is here to stay. With Accor’s backing, Ennismore has been capitalizing on this trend as, according to Ennismore CEO Sharan Pasricha, “Hotel owners like the diversification of revenue.”
Ennismore entered co-working as a logical extension of guests and visitors working in the lobbies of its hotels. Its first attempt was offering a space with 800 desks adjacent to one of its hotels in the Southwark district of London. The average length of stay has been nine months. Pasricha said the space now has a waiting list of 400, and a similar space in Chicago is “sold out.” One possible new segment for Ennismore in the future might be festivals, Pasricha hinted.