The sky's the limit for the hospitality sector, coming up with ideas like "togetherness programs" and offering increasingly bizarre spiritual and nature-based activities. But for how long will companies take the bait?
Future of Work
As organizations start to embrace distributed work and virtual meetings, the corporate travel and meetings sectors are preparing for change. Read Skift’s ongoing coverage of this shift in business travel behavior through the lens of both brands and consumers.
Intravenous drips, sound healing, forest bathing — these are just some of the activities hotels are offering to entice businesses to hold their corporate retreats with them.
These types of events, which are also known as offsites, are designed to help companies gather their teams and create camaraderie, and they’re in huge demand as distributed companies reallocate funds previously used for their office leases.
Wellness is the main buzzword, and was heard on the show floor during IMEX America, a key conference for meeting planners, held this week.
During the Las Vegas event, Minnesota’s Mall of America, JW Marriott and Radisson announced updates to their Under One Roof meeting solution, which allows groups to create team-building experiences: that now includes a yoga experience, where a Lululemon ambassador gives delegates a moment of Zen in a 40-minute class.
In the U.S., Cape Resorts is honing in on the demographic with “togetherness programs” to help business leaders with team building. But will their team members really want to spend a weekend rescuing horseshoe crabs?
“With many companies continuing hybrid and remote work models, and families and groups craving togetherness, it’s important, now more than ever, to offer options for groups to reconnect and get together in person,” said Curtis Bashaw, its managing partner.
Australia’s Corporate Travel Management is steering its customers towards hotel group Crystalbrook Collection’s new “Meet Mindfully” program.
“Tapping into the rising trend for work wellbeing, Meet Mindfully is designed to remove the stressors and environmental pressures of conventional corporate meetings,” it notes.
On offer across different venues are sound healing and beehive workshops, and plenty other things.
But are such activities really in the guests’ best interest? Some experts now say it may be style over substance as the marketing machine takes over.
Wellness Off the Rails
“Hotels are at a place where they are looking to attract more travelers, especially business travelers,” said corporate wellness specialist Sahara Rose De Vore. “The concept of wellness travel has gone off the rails, with a big focus on treatments with hotels offering options like intravenous drips, algae detox wraps, aromatherapy in the bath and nutritionists.”
She argues that these spa-driven options are probably best found in the delegate’s own city, and for probably less money.
And if a hotel has “wellness” labeled in its values and services, it will most likely be at a surface-level offering with the goal of one-upping competition while staying within their budget, she added.
Of course, nature does play a role in helping colleagues switch off and, maybe, bond with each other, with studies showing there are mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness benefits when we spend time in blue and green spaces.
“Meeting planners are well advised to leave space in the agendas or offer optional activities so those who are more introverted have time to retreat and recharge,” said corporate travel consultant Claudia Unger. “Forest Bathing, for example, doesn’t need to be a group activity but just walking for 30 minutes through a wood can have a positive effect on mind and mood.”
Blending It All Together
Some brands seem to be treading a middle path. Sonesta, which is positioning itself as a specialist for smaller group meetings, has just launched a new “work suite” for example that mixes traditional office and co-working space with hotel amenities.
It fits up to 50 people, and has three zones that factor in spaces for work, socializing and recharging. An “experiential” elements include puzzles, brainteasers, stress relief novelties and other visual enhancements that boost creativity and spark conversations.
The concept addresses the needs of today’s busy professionals who are looking for a new way to work, meet and collaborate, according to chief operating officer Vera Manoukian. Sonesta is testing it out in Irvine, California, but plans to make it a standard offering in the coming years at all its hotels.
For now, don’t expect a letup in the current surge for meetings and events with a twist, after most employees found themselves unable to meet for two years. Whether it’s a long-term trend will depend on how this current crop of retreats go, and what value is gained from them for the company and for the individuals.
Unger also believes companies that own their corporate spaces may start redesigning them to include hotel-like facilities, so hybrid staff can stay overnight for example. Some companies are already providing showers, areas to sleep and laundry facilities for staff working late, according to office specialist Peldon Rose.
“If there’s a tangible benefit, these large team gatherings will stay,” Unger said. “It may last another year or two at least, it could be a permanent change, but in my mind the world is still trying to figure this question out: what’s the best way to work?”
This ongoing upheaval in remote working could have a knock-on effect on hotels when it comes to revenue management, as well as travel buyers as they try to forecast their budgets for next year.
That’s according to two pricing experts from auditing company Tripbam. Air fares are starting to stabilize after the peaks seen in the spring and summer as borders reopened, but 2023 will be a different story.
Work-from-home policies will start to “harden,” predicts David Mollov, executive vice president, hotel solutions. “We’re past the point of fighting over this. Companies will adopt policies, and employees concerned about their future salaries will certainly adapt.”
So five-day-a-week policies will likely be changing.
“For the hotel industry, which is generally slow to adopt new technology, revenue management models are going to have a hard time catching up,” he said during an online event this week. “It used to be Tuesday and Wednesday were the sweet spot days. I don’t know that that will still be the case.”
Extreme price volatility will also spread to aviation. That’s because airlines are making a lot of changes to their route networks as they try to figure out what business travel is going to like going forward, especially after being focused on leisure over the past couple of years, according to Ed Tobin, director of business development.
This week United Airlines said it was planning seven new transatlantic routes, despite the economic storm clouds circling the U.S. and Europe.
The upshot is that we can expect to see “huge fluctuations” in prices from routes involving London, New York and Paris over the next couple of years as airlines “feel out” the new competitive landscape.
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