Opportunities are ahead for those travel and hospitality companies that build the right products and platforms to address the needs of distributed workforces. Sabre's Google partnership certainly gives it a headstart.
Future of Work
Editor’s Note: Skift Future of Work briefing is available exclusively every Friday.
As organizations start to embrace distributed work and virtual meetings, the corporate travel and meetings sectors are preparing for change. How will travel managers respond to new patterns of employee mobility? What role will hotels play in catering to distributed workforces and distributed meetings? Can destinations, and airlines, capitalize on the anticipated boom in digital nomads? Does the coming future of work increase or decrease the travel spend?
Welcome to Skift Future of Work Briefing. In my years covering corporate travel, the beat has never been without its fair share of constant change. But the pandemic year has crushed nearly every expectation for the sector.
Now, after countless Zoom meetings, for far too long, employees are desperate for human interaction, and the travel industry is waking up to the fact it has a role to play here. Whatever happens to the future of work will determine the new trajectory of business travel and the meetings and event sectors.
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Covering the corporate travel sector at the start of the pandemic, the consensus was that it was more of a pause, and the only problem really was how to switch things back on, with no realization that for the most part, businesses could function without spending billions of dollars on travel programs.
The pause went on for longer than expected, and the reporting gravitated to how the sector was upgrading its technology, developing hygiene protocols, new pricing models and other systems to help travel run smoothly in a post-pandemic world.
These gigantic shifts are what I hope to help our Skift Pro subscribers understand every Friday morning with this briefing. Some weeks, I will be focused more on straight-up corporate travel news, while others I will delve heavily in to Big Think ideas for the future of how we all will work. But every briefing will focus on how all this intersects with technology, which is a great segue to this debut issue’s lead on Google and travel distribution giant Sabre.
Can This Army of Google Engineers Figure Out Work’s Future?
The impact that remote work will have on its customers has crept up the agenda at Sabre. It’s no coincidence it only recently cemented its relationship with Google with a 10-year deal. And no coincidence rival Amadeus has forged a partnership with Microsoft, a company that couldn’t be more intertwined with the future of work with its vast footprint of desktop software, collaboration tool Teams, LinkedIn and other enterprise platforms.
Back to the top of that food chain, and Sabre has a army of 500 Google engineers working exclusively for it, and some of that sizeable brain power is being turned to the future of work.
One area specifically is around how to enable “micro” bookings as companies start to allow their staff to work from hotel guest rooms, or reserve meeting rooms to work with colleagues.
“We do have a hospitality micro-stay, short-stay capability that’s going to be introduced to the market shortly through travel agencies, through a Red App, to allow us to test the proof of concept for that,” Wade Jones, executive vice president and chief product officer at Sabre, told Skift.
At a macro level, the global distribution systems will inevitably be drawn into the remote work debate. Through their travel agency customers, they help large organizations connect with hotels. It will be interesting to see what they produce, in particular for the hospitality sector.
On the hotel front, remote work was a focus at hotel reservation company HRS‘ Corporate Lodging Forum on Tuesday. Its CEO, Tobias Ragge, wanted to know what was on the mind of Caroline Strachan, managing partner at Festive Road and former travel manager at AstraZeneca.
“We’ve been following everything outside of travel, so HR, behavioral scientists, real estate, academics — and it is fascinating,” she said during the event’s opening session.
Once aspect that had caught her attention was how employees won’t be able to build social capital over the coming years, so they’ll lose out bonding with colleagues, gaining trust and goodwill. “It’s really hard to build that virtually … that’s the big piece around the future of work.”
Because of the backward step last year, there’s a need to catch up. Sparks of creativity don’t happen when you’re not working in proximity, and she said the response from the real estate community is: how do we repurpose offices to be a different type of space?
“What I see coming is companies are going to replace a percentage of office space with collaboration hubs. From a travel perspective, that will absolutely make a difference to the future of travel, which is why the future of travel is so heavily dependent on the future of work,” Strachan said.
It needs some new innovative approaches, Ragge agreed. “You can’t just have little cubicles that everybody just hides behind, it needs to be more interactive,” he said. Corporations will need new forms of inventory. “There’s gong to be opportunities for hotels because they have the infrastructure and central locations, and aside from the co-working hubs will play a more vital role in how to connect people at work,” he added.
Hotel groups will need to watch closely how the real estate sector responds.
One revenue source hotels can look forward to are corporate retreat bookings. Now, one developer wants to build a property dedicated to them. Steve Sanchez is hoping to launch Branches in the Catskill Mountains, New York State, next year.
Sanchez pointed out he’s not the first to focus on these kind of “on-sites” (as they’re known, because “off-sites” don’t technically exist for remote-first companies), noting how Chris Penn, the former managing director at much-missed Ace Hotel London, has just launched new lifestyle hotel brand Birch in the UK.
Sanchez also name-checked Morkin House in Serbia (tagline: “Perfect place for freelancers, entrepreneurs, digital nomads and small teams”) and Coconat (which stands for community and concentrated work in nature) as inspiration.
Hospitality runs in his blood. His parents used to run a hotel in Mallorca during the package holiday boom in the 1980s, and his father later developed the Melia brand in the Americas — now there’s a symbolic reminder that tourism trends occur in cycles.
10-Second Corporate Travel Catch-Up
Talking Numbers: 25,000
This is the number of office-based employees energy company BP wants to permanently work from home for two days, starting this summer, according to The Times in the UK. At the end of 2019, it had a 70,000-strong workforce across 79 countries. It’s probably one of the first companies outside of technology or finance to make this kind of announcement, and it’s also one of the more realistic decisions. Offices aren’t disappearing just yet.
Digital Nomad-in-Residence Program Launch
Croatia has launched what it claims is the world’s first digital nomad-in-residence competition, says Total Croatia News. Many countries are weighing up how to welcome these ultimate remote workers, with Croatia joining Estonia in re-evaluating its tax rules and longer stay permits. The government wants to fly in 10 digital nomads to Dubrovnik for four weeks to help it draft policies to better understand the needs of remote workers.
Meetings for Walkers
Greg Caplan, the founder and CEO of work-and-travel program Remote Year, has launched Spot, an audio-only conference call app designed to be used for meetings while you walk. “No second-guessing if you have to turn your camera on or not during the meeting,” the website says, following in the footsteps of Clubhouse. A back-to-basics trend seems to be emerging.
Ready or Not
American Express Global Business Travel has launched a #TravelReady microsite for travelers, managers and arrangers. It’s a resource center with information on how to securely attend meetings and conduct business travel, and includes a plug for its new Workplaces tool.
Don’t Force It
As meetings and events slowly come back with a mix of on-site and virtual delegates, experts are warning not to impose hybrid engagement on participants, according to EventMB, a Skift brand. The best approach is to facilitate choices for interaction and shared experiences that allow both audiences to decide for themselves how they want to engage with one another.
The Business Travel and Future of Work Summit
On March 17, Skift will be bringing together experts for some frank conversations, including panels on how hospitality will evolve to meet the future of work, and what a decentralized future of work means for travel, at which Suzanne Neufang, the new CEO of the Global Business Travel Association, will be speaking. See the agenda for more details.
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