WASHINGTON, D.C. — Business travel and meetings have been slow to rebound from the COVID pandemic — much slower than leisure travel, which has already almost returned to 2019 levels. Group travel numbers are off 70% in 2021 and not expected to rebound until 2024. A recent survey of travel managers by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) found that one-third of companies are still not allowing employees to travel for business or to meetings.
The road to recovery starts with members and of the industry getting the word out that business events are safe, said leaders from the Let’s Meet There Coalition, the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) and the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA) during a recent press conference.
“Lockdowns and restrictions are no longer keeping us safe, vaccinations are,” Roger Dow, President and CEO of USTA, said. “Ultimately, the business community will drive the return to business travel, and in doing so, will shift the economy back to greater normalcy.” Dow was joined by Adam Sacks, President of Tourism Economics; John Cordier, CEO and Co-Founder, Epistemix Inc.; Hervé Sedky, President and CEO, Emerald and Chairman of the Board, ECA; and Caryn Seidman-Becker, Co-founder, Chairman and CEO, CLEAR.
The numbers support Dow’s claims that the risk of catching COVID-19 is much lower among meeting attendees and business travelers than the general population because of their overall higher vaccination rates. While 65% of all travelers are vaccinated, that number jumps to 72% among business travelers. Add to that the extremely high percentage of people with a college degree who have been vaccinated (92%), and the audience you will find at a business event is much safer than the general population.
The solution to returning to normal levels is a layered approach of vaccination, testing and masking, said the group. ECA has been working with Epistemix on scientific modeling that shows that attendees face just a .0001% risk of contracting COVID-19 transmission at a business event with these multiple mitigation strategies in place. To assist clients in implementing vaccination and testing protocols, CLEAR offers a customized approach to screening depending on the specific event’s safety protocols.
“This is the most important differentiation between meetings and other forms of travel,” Dow said. “We have the ability to know exactly who is coming through the door and their status.”