The last meal I had with a client before COVID hit was at Mercato restaurant in Brussels where I was joined by colleagues and friends from Radisson and Accenture.
It was a memorable meal. Not just because it was one of the last meals out that I had before lockdowns put a stop to both eating out and traveling for business, but because I had a really engaging conversation with the client about our joint innovation agenda. And the food. Wow, the food.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Miguel Flecha, I live in Madrid, and as well as being the Travel Lead for Accenture in Europe, I enjoy gastronomy and travel as a way of life.
I’ve been combining business travel and food tourism for as long as I can remember. I love researching hidden gastronomic gems close to the locations I visit for meetings, conferences or training sessions, and always try to carve out some time to escape for lunch or dinner as my schedule allows. Bleisure travel (a blend of business and leisure) is by no means a new concept for me.
But it’s not just this exploration of foreign cuisines and undiscovered restaurants that I’m missing as a result of the pandemic. It’s the interaction with clients and colleagues. The rapport that can be built during a three-hour meal, and the decisions that are born at the table, and then brought to life in the office.
There’s no doubt that lockdowns have changed the way we work and had a direct impact on the travel industry, which saw business travel represent over 20% of total travel spending in 2019i. And whilst there’s been a lot of debate about whether or not business travel will return, I’m going to put a stake in the ground and say that it most certainly will. But at least in the short term, it will look quite different to how it used to.
The rise of WFH – working from hotel
By this stage in the pandemic, you will not be surprised to learn that our most recent consumer research has uncovered that 79% of respondents said that they would like to occasionally work from a “third space” – a location other than their home or place of employment – and more than half said they would be willing to pay up to US$100 per month out of their own pockets to work from a café, bar, hotel, or retailer with a dedicated space.
We’ve already seen hotels offering rooms at discounted rates to people looking for a space outside of their home to work from. And I’ve heard stories from clients who have seen bookings for accommodation at beachside destinations rise as consumers look for locations that offer them a much needed change of scene. The chance to enjoy the beach and good weather as soon as they log off for the day.
As borders start to open up no doubt this trend will continue, and travel companies will need to ensure that the experience they are offering meets the needs of these kind of travelers. Think ergonomic chairs, spacious desks and high speed wifi rather than a trouser press and a shoeshine kit.
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Workcations are set to take off
Just as many professionals will go back to the office eventually, face to face meetings will also return to our agendas, and for many people these will entail some element of travel.
In addition, as companies work out how policies around remote working will evolve, many predict that we will see a rise in offsite meetings for remote workers as companies look to build a sense of belonging, kickstart training and reconnect teams.
With so much pent up demand in the market, I think we’ll see a lot of workers taking advantage of these trips and tacking on 3 or 4 extra days to sightsee or to be joined by their partners and families and enjoy a long weekend.
The digital nomad is on the loose
And what about those who never need to go back to the office? Whilst fully remote workers are not an exclusive by-product of the pandemic, this travel segment will have certainly experienced a rise in numbers over the past few months. Just in the US the pandemic has triggered a 50% surge in digital nomads in 2020, with figures for this segment reaching 11 millionii.
By embracing a technology-enabled lifestyle, these travelers are not tied to any particular location and can explore the world whilst earning a living.
Similar to those who are looking to work from a third place, they have specific needs, but getting the most out of the location that they choose to work from will be top of their priority list.
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The travel industry is a leisure industry
Whatever the pattern that business travel takes in the coming months, the lone wolf traveler who flies in and out of cities for an hour-long meeting looks set to be lying low for a while. And unsurprisingly, after months of strict lockdown, leisure will be an important element of the majority of upcoming trips.
This shift in demand means that travel companies need to reposition themselves for the post-pandemic market and concentrate their efforts on creating and capturing demand for leisure travel.
I have been working with my team to define the six key areas that airlines and hospitality companies need to focus on:
- Inspiring customers to travel becomes a priority
- Global marketing needs local flexibility
- Loyalty will require a fundamental rethink
- Personalized digital media and content production at scale is critical for capturing new business
- Data-driven decisions should guide the whole business
- Delivering on the promise of seamless experiences is essential
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Hungry for interaction
Little did I know that the last time I would see some of my team in person would be in a London pub on a drizzly night back in February 2020. And for some of the team it’s been even longer. Back in November 2019 I hosted a Masterchef-inspired event in Madrid for 100 members of the travel team, with 6 teams competing to make the best Spanish omelette. The travel industry is built on human interactions and shared experiences, and as you can see, the Travel Team at Accenture is no different.
I can’t wait to get everybody back together again in my favorite restaurant in Madrid. To share ideas, develop concepts and solve problems together in person. And I will be recommending that once we have all spent some time together, they take a few days to explore a corner of Spain that they haven’t visited before. That they stretch their wings and find out more about what my amazing country has to offer.
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[i] Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2021. WTTC, March 2021
[ii] Digital nomads are capitalising on the rise in remote work. Tech Monitor, Jan 2021