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Business Events, Venues Still Struggling in Uneven Pandemic Recovery of Travel Sector

April 26, 2022 by Dan McCue
Business Events, Venues Still Struggling in Uneven Pandemic Recovery of Travel Sector
(Photo courtesy Caesars Entertainment)

WASHINGTON — Despite the pent up desire of business travelers to once again attend conferences, conventions or trade shows, the business travel sector continues to struggle in this period of uneven recovery from the lingering, but far less problematic coronavirus pandemic.

“Leisure travel is back, no question about it,” Michael Massari, chief sales officer for Caesars Entertainment, told The Well News recently.

“In most markets you’re seeing leisure travel back to almost 100% of pre-pandemic levels,” he said.

“But when it comes to business travel … we’re still down 50% from 2019. And when it comes to international travel for business, we’re still down over 75%,” Massari said.


“That’s really important,” he added, emphasizing each word. “While business travel only represents 20% of the volume of U.S. travelers, it represents 50% to 60% of the revenue generated by travel.”

Though Massari might at first seem a biased observer of the situation, given Caesars Entertainment’s huge exposure in the business travel and convention area, his numbers correlate almost exactly to those in a recent survey conducted by J.D. Power, the U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics.

Despite a clear shift to the affirmative in American business travelers’ desire to return to in-person meetings — more than 84% said they planned to do so in the next six months — business travel spending into April continued to be down some 60% from pre-pandemic levels, according to the survey released April 7.

The release was timed to correspond to Global Meetings Industry Day, an annual event intended to shine a spotlight on the positive impact of business meetings, trade shows, incentive travel, exhibitions, conferences and conventions on people, businesses and the economy.

Martha Sheridan, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said while tourism destinations like Las Vegas and even San Diego, California, are beginning to see a resurgence in tourism activity, cities like Boston, who rely more heavily on business travel, are continuing to struggle.

American Society for Microbiology show 2016. (Photo by Arnold Reinhold via Wikimedia Commons)

“Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are strong in our market, but Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — which used to be the golden goose — are continuing to struggle right now in terms of hotel occupancies and rates.

“In fact, many of us in major metropolitan areas are really trying to figure out a way, not only to get business travelers back on the road again, but to encourage people to attend those meetings and conventions that are already in the works or are now being planned.”

Asked if they had a sense of why, Massari and Sheridan had similar answers. Paraphrasing both: Strict rules for when and how people can travel is creating unnecessary uncertainty — especially when it comes to planning to attend an out-of-town business event.

“To me it seems one of the biggest problems, particularly when it comes to international business travel, is the requirement that you have a negative COVID test within 24 hours of your arrival in the U.S.,” Massari explained.

“I mean, you can understand how someone is going to be reticent about booking a flight, a hotel, appointments with customers, if they know that 18 hours before they’re scheduled to depart they’re told they can’t make the trip,” he said.

“That’s why our position is, so long as you’re vaccinated, that should be sufficient for you to be able to enter the country,” Massari continued. “The testing requirement is one of the most important drivers to the rate of international business travel continuing to be down 75%.

“If you could flick the switch tomorrow and eliminate the testing requirements, I’m sure you’d see international business travel begin to pick up substantially — and it can be done very safely so long as you keep the vaccination requirements in place.”

Meetings Are Fundamental

Aside from the COVID-19 testing requirement for international passengers, the other thing Massari proved evangelical about during recent conversations was business meetings themselves.

“Meetings and events … ,” he said more than once, “are critical to society.”

“Nothing great ever really happened until someone first had a meeting,” he said.

Yet again, however, the J.D. Power, U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics survey appears to bear him out.


According to most participants in the survey, there is simply no substitute for a face-to-face meeting, which they said is proven to lead to more fruitful business opportunities and can help power an economic and jobs recovery in communities across America.

Forty-seven percent of business travelers surveyed said that business travel that supports developing relationships with customers and suppliers was critical to their job performance.

The 2007 EBay Live trade show filled BCEC. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Twenty-three percent said it was critical for closing sales, and 26% said it helped build awareness about an organization’s products and services.

Twenty-three percent also indicated business travel was important for professional development and 18% said it was good for engagement and motivation. Sixteen percent said business travel helped build an understanding of current trends.

“The reality is, meeting face to face has intrinsic benefits that you just cannot achieve remotely,” Sheridan said. “It’s a proven fact. And I think if the pandemic has proven anything, it’s difficult to connect in a Zoom call where you’re also trying to absorb everything that’s being said.”

“We’re built to interact face to face,” Massari said. “That’s the gold standard. And it doesn’t change. It’s in our DNA. It’s why we still go to football games despite the fact they’re on television. … It’s why we still go to concerts, even in the age of perfectly replicated digital music.

“It’s a requirement of our survival,” he continued. “It’s essential for our society, for it to move forward. Like I said before, nothing great ever happened until someone gathered people to talk about it.”

“One thing that’s been interesting,” Sheridan interjected, “is the number of meetings being held in my city and others by the medical industry. Not only do they obviously know how to orchestrate a meeting safely, but they also understand the risks and rewards of coming together.

“We just hosted 14,000 dermatologists in Boston, and I think that’s a good bellwether for other sectors,” she said. “If the doctors are meeting, maybe we can too.”     

Benefits to the Wider Community

Andrea Stokes, practice lead for hospitality at J.D. Power, said in-person conferences have relational and financial impacts to corporations that are significant. 

“Nearly half of survey respondents indicated that conferences, conventions and trade shows are critical to developing relationships with customers, suppliers or others. Nearly one in four respondents indicated these events are critical to closing sales,” she said in a written statement accompanying the release of the survey.

Both Massari and Sheridan said the benefits of business travel extend far beyond those enjoyed by a participating business, business sector or venue.

“The meetings industry has tentacles that extend far and wide into every community, whether it’s Vegas or Boston or Des Moines, Iowa,” she said.

“And that is because small businesses of all kinds in those communities rely on the business traveler for some significant percentage of their annual revenue,” she said. 

“Think about it, you’ve got the taxi cab driver and the company that rents the linens to the hotel; without meetings and events, those people aren’t making as much money as they used to … and then there’s the people that work at the airport and the front desk agents who schedule housekeepers to more shifts … and it’s restaurant waiters and hostesses. … In fact, it’s almost an invisible industry because of how many people it touches,” Sheridan said.

“It touches farmers and produce distributors, because if we’re feeding 10,000 people at our convention center in Boston, we’re buying that produce from someone. It’s the same for the seafood industry. When you’re feeding 10,000 people in Boston, at some point, you’re buying a heck of a lot of scrod off a boat in Boston Harbor. And if that convention is not there, those fishermen aren’t selling those fish.”

“It almost becomes part of every conversation you have when you arrive in a city for a business event,” Massari said. “You get in a cab, and the driver says, ‘Are you here with the truckers’ or ‘Are you here with the teachers’ union?’

“And the reason they ask these questions is not just a matter of making conversation; they’re really attuned to [the] inflow and outflow of that convention traffic because when it gets busy, they get business as well,” he said. “Meetings and events are an essential part of the fabric of our society and our economy.


“And that’s why, to go back to what I said about testing requirements — and it applies to other restrictions as well — I think it’s time to tell those few people who are still reticent about getting back into the fray that it’s okay to do so,” Massari said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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