Research Insights The two indicators for business travel to resume

The two indicators for business travel to resume

August 2020
Phocuswright Research

The U.S. meetings and event travel segment was thriving as 2019 came to an end. Phocuswright's latest travel research report and traveler survey COVID-19 Pandemic: An Unwelcome Event in Meetings & Event Travel found that those attending an event of at least 10 professionals took an average of seven meetings or event trips in 2019. Various U.S. destinations and hotels enjoyed steady growth, and some reported record years for meetings and event groups. DMOs, CVBs and hotels alike were looking forward to robust 2020 rosters and held optimistic outlooks for meetings and event travel through 2021. As 2020 began, murmurs of a dangerous new virus remained largely confined to China, but when COVID-19 hopped the globe to Europe and the U.S., it became clear that there was a much bigger problem. By March, the pandemic brought U.S. meetings and event travel to a screeching halt, along with overall travel worldwide.

Rebound Predictions

By the second quarter, destinations, hotels and meeting venues had already suffered mass cancellations and diminished lead volume. Any future meetings still slated to happen in 2020 shrunk in size. And as weeks of travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders, and economic shutdowns turned into months, venues and planners from state to state observed a muddled variety of responses from meetings and event hosts. Some interviewed destinations were concerned about lack of capacity for a robust fourth quarter, as many meetings got pushed to the end of the year. However, other destinations witnessed extra cautious meetings rescheduled for 2023 and 2024. Force majeure contract clauses also left many meeting planners with no options but to wait or renegotiate with venues. The profound state of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 has the industry navigating unchartered waters as it attempts to adapt and plan any upcoming in-person meetings or events.

When and how meetings and event travel can return in the U.S. is at the mercy of science, the country's ability to control the outbreak, and the lifting of government restrictions on permissible group size. Travelers assessing whether they will attend a meeting or event will look to government guidance and infection levels the most (see Figure below). More than four in 10 travelers (43%) will consider whether government restrictions have been lifted, and nearly the same share (42%) will examine if infection levels have dropped. These two indicators will be more widely considered than preparation or precautions at the destination, conference center, or hotel level in response to COVID-19.


Based on a survey of meetings and event travelers, along with interviews with executives from city and state destination marketing organizations, convention and visitors bureaus, hotels and others, this report explores the impact of the novel coronavirus on meetings and event travel in the U.S. Phocuswright's COVID-19 Pandemic: An Unwelcome Event in Meetings & Event Travel is part of a robust research study that delves deeply into U.S. meetings and event marketplace dynamics and opportunities. A forthcoming report will contain complete results, which examines traveler motivations, preferences, planning behaviors and spend patterns. See the preview of the full research here.

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Research Methodology

COVID-19 Pandemic: An Unwelcome Event in Meetings & Event Travel investigates how COVID-19 has or is expected to change sentiment and behavior among meetings and event travelers, as well as how the industry is adapting to the new state of business. The research methodology comprises:

Traveler survey: Phocuswright fielded an online survey June 10-19, 2020 to 1,032 participants across the U.S. The survey targeted travelers who took at least one trip in 2019 where the primary purpose was for a face-to-face meeting or event of at least 10 professionals gathered to conduct business (e.g., company/department meeting, conference, incentive meeting, trade show). The trip must have included at least a one-night stay in paid accommodations. Respondents are referred to as "meetings and event travelers" and "travelers" in this report.

Executive interviews: Phocuswright conducted executive interviews across the sector to acquire key perspectives from companies directly involved in meetings and events. Interviews took place April-July 2020. Companies interviewed spanned U.S. city and state destination marketing organizations (DMO)/convention and visitors bureaus (CVB), branded hotels, and meetings- and events-focused technology companies.