Friction between what company travel managers want for their remote teams, and what hotels can actually give them, does exist. But Marriott says it's on the case.
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.
Marriott is looking to meet new demands from company travel managers, following a ramp up in requests for more culture and trust-boosting team meetings.
These new kinds of gatherings are designed for employees who work efficiently remotely, but need opportunities to network and build up trust with peers. Technically you can call it “collaboration travel,” but one travel buyer at the Global Business Travel Association’s European conference, held in Brussels this week, describes it as the new “water cooler” discussion.
It’s a conundrum for one senior Marriott exec, as these meetings are often booked last-minute, and travel buyers want to move away from traditional hotel meeting spaces.
Meeting’s Defragmentation Moment
In a poll of delegates during a panel called “Collaboration Travel, a Passing Trend or Here to Stay?” which included a large number of travel buyers, the need for more flexible solutions from hotels was highlighted, as the nature of meetings meant lead times were short.
“I assume it’s something to do with cancellation policies and attrition, which is something that needs to be discussed,” responded panelist Christopher Grieves, account director, corporate at Marriott International, who added the hotel group needed to protect itself as well.
“We understand flexibility is needed, but we need to run our business as well in a way that we can plan what is going to happen,” he said.
“I’m not that much involved in the daily groups booking process, but we have teams that do so, and we’re. For me the key is the open dialogue to decide what can be done, and expectations for a specific request. It’s something on our agenda as well,” he added.
Seeking the Cool Spaces
Travel buyers also said they wanted “fun and exciting” spaces that motivated staff, when asked by moderator Aurélie Krau, head of customer success at Hubli, what “collaboration travel” meant to them.
That could be a challenge in some hotels, but Grieves said Marriott was adapting and highlighted its millennial-friendly Moxy brand. “In terms of properties and services, I agree. There is, and I’m going back in history a little bit, Marriott with a red carpet and big flower bunches, but that’s all long gone in history,” he said.
“In our portfolio, knowing other brands and competitors do something similar, we’re upscaling our Sheraton brand, which is going through a global transformation, to exactly deliver what you’re describing. We’re going in the same direction …. that will take some time, it’s not happening overnight, but it’s definitely happening,” he added.
Corporate Retreats Phasing Out
Meanwhile, the U.S.’s preference for annual mega-events was highlighted during the debate. In Europe we may even be about to see a decline in them, in favor of quarterly meetings for team members to get together and build up trust.
“Companies realize people need to get together, to build trust, but if you’ve got 800 people getting together, it’s a different purpose, it’s a celebration,” said panelist Ben Park, senior director procurement and travel at Parexel.
But in the U.S. they’re still seen as part of corporate culture, Grieves said. Bookings for those are already being made up to the year 2027.
Staying with hospitality, Accor revealed its expanding portfolio of lifestyle hotels was contributing positively to the sustainable travel debate during the Brussels event.
The first day was dedicated to sustainability, where Brune Poirson, chief sustainability officer at Accor, made a relatively bold claim that the remote work movement helps reduce carbon, or at least when it comes to Accor’s arsenal of lifestyle hotels welcoming those guests.
“The hospitality industry is getting organized,” said Poirson. “We are accelerating the type of changes that are required to reduce our CO2 emissions at a global level. For example, we’re welcoming guests for longer periods of times, but also offering them the opportunity to work from the hotels. So slowly but surely, we transforming hotels so people can work and enjoy them.”
However, the combined carbon impact of so many digital nomads is open to debate.
Poirson also said Accor was reflecting more “wisely” on the definition of a hotel in the 21st century. “Does it have to be exclusively for people to travel, for tourism or business? It can also be for people in the surrounding area, in the neighborhoods, and be more open to the local area,” she said. “That’s what we do with our new area of business — that we call the lifestyle hotels, where we work closely with the local community. It’s booming and developing really fast.”
In a former role, Poirson was French secretary of state for the environment, and she reacted to a provocative statement put to the panel by moderator Caroline Strachan, managing partner at consultancy Festive Road: Meeting locations will be decided by low or high emissions, versus cost, in the future. Some locations could be deemed “dirty cities.”
“It depends on which part of the world you talk about,” she replied. “In Europe it’s easier to do that. In France, it’s slowly or clearly happening. In Marseille, the local authorities are really trying hard to do everything they can to promote their city as a green destination … we live in a world cities will keep growing, this is where wealth is created. People will keep going to cities … but I know that as a hospitality company, we want to work and partner with local authorities to really encourage them to push for more sustainability.”
10-Second Corporate Travel Catch-Up
Who and what Skift has covered over the past two weeks: Amadeus, sustainable aviation fuel, Cathay Pacific, Choice Hotels, Hopper, Marriott, microservices, Ryanair, Sonder, Travalyst, TripActions, Trip.com.
Direct ATPI Adds Microsoft Teams Plug-In
Corporate travel agency Direct ATPI has partnered with Microsoft to allow clients to view, plan, book and discuss business trips on Microsoft Teams. It said this means all travel documentation and queries can be kept in one space, including itineraries, tickets, flight times enquiries and invoice data. “This innovation will allow us to be where our customers are, we believe that connecting our proprietary technology into Microsoft Teams will support all traveller persona’s to make booking, planning and travelling simple,” Said Katie Skitterall, Direct ATPI Group’s commercial director
FCM Opens Up an Office in Spain
FCM, the corporate travel arm of Flight Centre Travel Group, has opened an office in Barcelona, Spain, to support growing business travel needs of its clients and prospects. The agency was previously assisted by local agency partnerships.
Travel consultants will also be based in Madrid. It already works with clients including BASF, AXA, Parexel and Procter & Gamble across Spain. It will be managed by Solenn Le Brazidec, who also oversees FCM’s businesses across France, Switzerland. FCM also operates its FCM Lab, a global hub of technology experts that develop, test and deliver new travel technology solutions, in Spain.
“By shifting to a direct-to-market strategy, we can provide a fully flexible, tailored travel management service while boosting our ability to identify and fill market gaps,” said FCM global managing director Marcus Eklund. Earlier this week TripActions announced it had bought Spain’s Atlanta Events & Corporate Travel Consultants.
Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch