Worldwide Business Research (WBR) hosted a Digital Travel Virtual Event last week that focused on adapting strategies for a new travel economy. Here are some highlights from the panel, Benchmarking Business & Leisure: How Have Travelers’ Needs Changed?

Key Business and Leisure Traveler Behavioral Trends

The digital nomad is a trend to watch, according to Blessy Townes, vice president and head of digital marketing and branding, Discovery Hospitality. She said guests are now blurring the lines between business and leisure because of the flexibility of working anywhere. 

“The fresh ambiance helps them save their sanity after being cooped up in their houses for so long, and they stay longer,” Townes noted. 

Another trend is the demand for wellness travel, which highlights the values of physical and mental healing and social well-being, Townes said. She added it’s also important to note that post-pandemic mindful travelers are expected to support businesses and organizations that are responsible and sustainable. 

The hotel industry will have to seek a recovery, Philippe Garnier, vice president, omnichannel commerce, IHG Hotels & Resorts, said. 

“We’re not going to magically go back to the business breakdown we’ve known for years, where hotels could conveniently break down business into three segments: leisure, groups and corporate,” he said.

Regarding the business traveler, Garnier said they will come back slower. 

“With the pace of vaccinations accelerating, it’s becoming safe to travel again,” he noted. “But most of the chief financial officers in the world have noticed that their companies have stayed afloat in 2020 with no travel at all, so there’s pressure on travel budgets at all types of companies; that really has an impact on the business occupancy of our hotels.”

The rebound of large domestic markets should bring back some business travel to the same locale, according to Mark Rademaker, global head, hospitality, Adyen. He expects to see 50 percent to 60 percent of 2019 levels in 2021 in regards to business traffic, and mentioned that while revenue and volume has been down, the mix of business to leisure traffic overall has stayed largely the same. 

“I think it’s a little exaggerated to say business travel is completely dead,” Rademaker added. “There are budgets unused and a lot of travel that needs to happen. We just need to take it one step at a time. While the intermediate sales piece will come back, what will take the longest to return are the large-scale conferences and exhibits we were seeing previously.” 

How Engagement Should Change to Accommodate Travelers’ Evolving Behaviors

Traditionally, luxury hotels were high-touch environments, but low-touch options have been well-received by that class of guests through the pandemic, Rademaker noted.

“That has opened up opportunities for contactless payment and check-in and checkout, which has been really important,” he said. “That’s something I think we will see continue as people get used to operating in that manner.”

In addition, data show a significant increase in length of stay for guests, Rademaker shared. 

“Obviously we’ve seen a lot of focus on short-term rentals and a huge spike in how many days people are staying,” noted Rademaker. “So if you have a longer captive audience, how can you engage with your guests and look for opportunities for ancillary revenue?”

Embracing digital channels will enable hotels to inform guests of promotions while they’re on the property, and there will continue to be a strong emphasis on technology and the need for innovations in the industry overall, Rademaker said. 

Garnier agreed, and said even when it is safe to do so again, guests are not going to want to wait for 30 minutes in the lobby to check in, so online check-in will be paramount. 

“The next stage in the journey will be using your device as the key to your room,” Garnier said. “The ability to take your life on your phone with you, where your video and music streaming accounts all sync with hotel technology, is going to become an expectation.” 

From a business perspective, ultimately hotels and resorts will become the engagement centers of the corporate world, Townes predicted. As work-from-home continues, companies will seek safe and entertaining spaces outside perceived working spaces to deliver engagement and connection needed by isolated remote employees. 

Hoteliers should create products that engage teams instead of singular travelers, Townes suggested.