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Will Face-to-Face Meetings Weather the Zoom Challenge?

Dire predictions of the meetings industry’s death due to teleconferencing may be premature, say some meetings insiders

May 13, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic moves from “lockdown” to “recovery” phase, industry analysts are predicting that meetings may be the last component of business travel to recover. Some in the hospitality field are even saying that a portion of that business may never recover, partially due to the widespread use of Zoom and other teleconferencing platforms.

Although this possibility has been widely reported, others in the industry are saying predictions of the meetings industry’s demise may be premature.

Bruce Rosenberg, president of the Americas for Hotel told Business Traveler USA that his company is fielding about 1,000 group requests a day.

Although some of those bookings are from smaller units of first responders going to cities for COVID-19 relief, there was a healthy amount of meeting business reported, although the groups were more limited in number.

“We are seeing groups of 10 to 15 people where we are used to seeing business travel with groups of 20 to 30 guests,” he said.

Rosenberg said that these meetings are often structured around bringing company people together around a localized hub where the bulk of the employees are based, whereas in pre-pandemic times, everyone would meet in more far-flung destinations.

“Pretty much everything is domestic, but people want to get back to work,” he said.

Rosenberg also pointed out that where previously five-star hotels netted bookings, now more select-service properties are being considered for corporate travel because amenities like spas, wet areas, restaurants and bars would be closed. Best Western, Choice and Radisson are increasingly at the top of meeting planners’ lists.

Finally, Rosenberg said that “no risk, no commitment” bookings are a mandatory part of the recovery process for the meetings industry.

Benchmark Hospitality,  the Texas-based global brand specializing in meetings has addressed the risk factor by announcing a “Meetings Accelerator” program.

The plan includes flexible short-term bookings, relaxed attrition and cancellation fees, and 100 percent credit given on re-bookings.  Meeting spaces at Benchmark properties will be restructured, focusing on long-term safety to align with social distancing and optimizing healthy hygiene practices. To support independent planners, Benchmark will increase commissions on new business from 10 percent to 12 percent, with 7 percent distributed immediately upon booking.

“We understand that the road to recovery for our industry, especially for meetings and events, will be a lengthy one,” Eric Gain, Benchmark’s chief sales officer told Business Traveler USA.

“To best support the recovery effort, we felt it was imperative to create comfort around booking future meetings and events. The Meetings Accelerator initiative creates comfort by providing booking flexibility for meetings as well as guidance on how to meet safely and productively.”