Skift Take

The viewpoints from a major hotel chain and independent specialist reinforce the idea that accommodating remote workers is going to be challenging.

Series: Future of Work

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.

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Skift unveiled the 2023 edition of its annual Megatrends this week and in the mix, as you’d expect, is the phenomenon of the blended traveler.

Not to be confused with the pre-pandemic “bleisure” traveler, this 2.0 version is more elusive, because they have new needs that hoteliers are still figuring out.

Fortunately during the megatrends reveal in New York, experts joined Skift editors live on stage to dig deeper. They included leaders from Marriott International and Curator Hotel & Resorts.

“Megatrends 2023 are all about how we are traveling differently, so the question for the panel is: how will hotels respond in their design and innovation,” asked Sean O’Neill, Skift’s senior hospitality editor.

Always On

For Jennifer Barnwell, president of Curator Hotel & Resort Collection, the focus is on making everything available — because you never know who wants what, and when.

“We’re seeing business travel is different. It’s kind of hard to figure it out, because it used to be easy: whoever is at your hotel Tuesday through Thursday, they’re certainly business travelers, they’ve probably booked meeting space,” she said.

But since the pandemic ended, new patterns have emerged. “But if someone arrives Sunday and stays until Thursday, or arrives Thursday and stays until the next Monday, you don’t always know, and they may not always be booking through their company room,” she added.

In the independent hotel space, in which Curator operates, Barnwell said she was now seeing that new demand.

“We’re seeing the customers have the money to spend, they want to congregate in spaces, they want the food and beverage offerings. We don’t necessarily have a pricing problem, but the services have to be there, and they’ll take advantage of them. You’ve got to make sure your offerings are there.”

This could be more of an operational challenge for smaller independent hotels, to offer facilities round the clock, compared to the likes of Marriott — but Aliya Khan, its vice president of design, argued that travelers know exactly what they want, more than ever, so you’ll never be able to always win.

“You cannot be everything to everyone,” she said. “Get comfortable with that and know that, certainly for us with over 30 brands, if one thing isn’t right for you I promise we’ve got something that is.”

But getting the basics right is really the key, Khan urged. And that includes furniture like desks in the room.

“There was a time when a desk was for one person, now with all this blended travel you might have two adults and child in a hotel room, and somebody’s doing Zoom school, and somebody’s doing something else, so it’s transcended ‘just a desk’ to how do I offer pockets or spaces for more than one person, and then how do you seat them comfortably,” she said.

“You can do fantastic, original, inspiring local things, but you do have to solve for the cost of entry needs that every guest looks for. And with blended travel, those needs are a whole new set, which means we’re all going to step up and try and solve it differently,” she added.

Emotion was another megatrend that dominated the conversation, and the duo talked about how hotels need to lean into their environment, and remind people of where they are to help them forge a connection with the brand. No one wants to see a black and white picture of the Eiffel Tower in the lobby anymore, Khan joked.

Barnwell described independent hotels as being a brand of one. “Emotion, that’s the core DNA of what independent hotels have always been,” she said.

Perhaps the main takeaway is that hoteliers need to focus on their uniqueness, rather than features and functions, to impress guests, rather than trying to figure out the reason they’re staying.

Sidenotes

Could Shopify’s meetings purge inspire other companies to carry out their own cultural reboot?

TechSmith, which makes screen capture software and productivity solutions, thinks it will after conducting its own little experiment.

It eliminated meetings for an entire month and, like Shopify, felt that its employees were not immune to virtual meeting fatigue after switching to remote mode during the pandemic.

So what did the company, with its 300 employees, discover exactly?

Overall, the positive impact produced more more dedicated “think” time.

Specifically, more than 15 percent of employees felt more productive. It surveyed employees on their level of perceived productivity before and after the month of no meetings, and saw a 15 percent boost in employees who strongly agreed they felt productive in their work after the experiment. 

TechSmith also found there was an 8 percent increase in perceived importance of meetings. It asked staff to review all synchronous meetings on their calendars, and rate each on a scale of one to five (five being very important.) Prior to the experiment the average score was 3.32, but rose to 3.57 at the end of the month.

And 85 percent of employees said they would consider replacing future meetings after the experiment, so “asynchronous” communication habits were worth learning and adopting.

“Technology is obviously crucial for companies to function in a hybrid or remote setting, but real change must begin with a cultural reboot to help employees form new habits and workflows that are more conducive to their changing environment,” said CEO Wendy Hamilton. “This experiment was a great step towards building our ideal hybrid work culture.”

TechSmith worked with marketing consultancy Convince & Convert to analyze the impact of moving to an asynchronous work environment during July last year. It’s even produced a handy guide, A Month with No Meetings, documenting the findings from its study.

10-Second Corporate Travel Catch-Up

Who and what Skift has covered over the past week: Accor, BCD Travel, Club Travel Corporate, Hilton, FAA, Sonder, Tata Consultancy Services, Travelport.

In Brief

Selina’s Remote Year Appoints New CEO

Community-based trip operator Remote Year has named Tue Le as its CEO. She replaces Shaun Prime, who has moved to become chairman of Remote Year’s parent company, Selina. He will “oversee content companies” including Remote Year, Mantra wellness retreats and sims music immersion initiatives. Le originally joined Remote Year six years ago as the regional director of the Asia Pacific.

“Tue has played an integral role in not only building Remote Year into a leading and trusted global community-based platform for remote work and travel, but also in significantly expanding our footprint to countries including Vietnam, Senegal, Kenya, and Japan,” said Rafi Museri, CEO and co-founder of Selina.

ATG Keeps Track of Carbon With Squake

ATG Business Travel Management has partnered with Squake to provide its clients with carbon emission calculations and “tangible compensation” of the emissions. It will provide carbon calculations for flight, hotel, bus, rail and car rental usage. It will also provide the option to add a climate compensation at checkout. Compensation certificates are issued based on the amount of carbon and projects, and go towards the client’s choice of climate organization or a sustainable aviation fuel provider. Utrecht, Netherlands headquartered ATG claims it’s the first travel management company to offer Squake in this capacity with deployment. It will be rolled out in the first quarter of 2023.

“The partnership between Squake and ATG is further evidence that the sustainable revolution of the travel industry is in motion,” said Philipp von Lamezan, CEO of Squake. “In a world where 20 percent of global travel expenditure falls into the business travel category, it is critical to make it easier for corporations to enforce their sustainable policies.”

CWT Names New ESG Chief

Travel management company CWT has appointed Richard Thompson as its new global head of environmental, social, and corporate governance and employee experience. He will lead the company’s responsible business activities and continue to oversee the company’s human resources communications and CWT workplace culture initiatives. Thompson was formerly CWT’s vice-president, global internal communication and culture, but now hands over global internal communication duties to the chief communications officer Julian Walker.

401(play) Enters Business Travel Sector

Company benefit solution company 401(play) is launching a new solution for corporate travel. It aims to help clients save costs on hotels, airlines, car rentals, and activities and excursions, by allowing companies to incentivize and reward employees to spend company money more wisely, and then offering them a percentage of the money saved. “Business travel no longer needs to feel like an employee versus the business scenario,” said Tim Misuradze, chief recreation officer.

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Tags: blended travel, business travel, climate change, corporate travel, cwt, Future of Work Briefing, marriott, megatrends 2023, remote work, remote year, selina, skiftlive, travel management

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