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Hotels are suffering huge losses following blanket cancellations of meetings, events, and conferences, which are transitioning to virtual environments.

But two can play at that game, as the hospitality sector gets in on the virtual act by adopting the same technology for site visits, and some are even predicting a surge in corporate demand for 2021.

Hotels are increasingly offering inspections and visits via Zoom to travel managers and meetings planners, adding in dynamic extras to bring the venues to life.

Cambria Hotels has carried out 20 such visits in the past two weeks to help drive group bookings.

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So far 150 clients have taken its tours, including participants from some of the biggest corporate travel agencies and conference organizers. They include live walk-throughs hosted by local sales staff and real-time Q&A sessions. The most recent was the Cambria Hotel Boston Downtown, which took place Monday, while Wednesday it’s the turn of New York’s Cambria Hotel White Plains to play host.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced many new challenges for businesses across every industry. Companies have had to increase their creativity and resourcefulness, finding innovative ways to engage and serve clients,” the company said.

“In that spirit of innovation, we are leaning into technology by facilitating virtual site tours to continue driving group bookings for future corporate travel needs. These new tours are resonating with clients and uncovering new efficiencies for corporate travel.”

On Demand

The UK’s Belfry Hotel & Resort is offering virtual tours too, which can also be viewed on virtual reality headsets. It is offering clients on-site FaceTime tours, and spaces are being set up by on-site staff so travel managers can view different layouts — an important aspect as corporates adjust to new social distancing regulations.

“Despite the current climate, we are seeing an increased demand for the fourth quarter and through 2021. It is definitely a case of postpone not cancel,” said Katie Niland, the hotel’s sales director.

“At the moment, business for 2021 is pacing ahead by 110 percent year on year. We are seeing confidence within the industry and we are receiving requests for postponed events to be rescheduled for as early as the summer months.”

Digital Twins

Some of the virtual technology is provided by Matterport, which claims its 3D data platform allows hotels to turn their space into an “accurate and immersive digital twin”.

This technology is also being used by global engineering firm Arup, among others, which is able to carry out construction site walk-throughs with clients, contractors and engineers during the lockdown.

Cambria Hotels, which is part of the Choice Hotels, has uploaded 10 of its properties to the platform so far, including the Cambria Nashville Downtown and Cambria New Orleans Downtown Warehouse District.

The platform even lets users measure distances with a virtual tape measure.

Now Streaming

The virtual pivot is just one of many use cases emerging in the corporate travel space, with incentives now making the move.

Before the pandemic, a company’s employees would look forward to that weekend in Costa Rica as a reward for hitting their target. As that’s no longer possible, the perks have to be a little closer to home.

BCD Travel is one corporate travel agency reportedly looking to offer alternatives to incentive travel, switching to personal sessions with a celebrity chef or an exclusive performance by a musician live-streamed to the employee’s house.

As travel restrictions continue, expect to see more virtual innovation as the corporate travel sector adjusts to a new normal.

Photo Credit: The Cambria Hotel Nashville Downtown, as viewed on 3D platform Matterport. Matterport