Industry Leaders Make Compelling Case for Full Return of Business Travel and Events

September 17, 2021

In what was perhaps the strongest argument to date calling for the full return of in-person professional gatherings, leaders from the business and travel sectors joined together Sept. 15 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to deliver a powerful, data-driven, science-backed message: Travel for and participation in professional meetings, exhibitions and events can safely resume, and doing so will significantly accelerate America’s economic recovery.  

Under the Let's Meet There initiative, the broad alliance included representatives of the American Society of Association Executives, ClearDestinations International, Events Industry Council, Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance, International Association of Exhibitions and EventsMeetings Mean Business CoalitionMeeting Professionals InternationalProfessional Convention Management Association and U.S. Travel Association

The spotlight was drawn to the importance of business travel to the U.S. economy and the necessity of its return, the distinctions between professional meetings and events (PMEs) and other “large events,” scientific data and modeling that prove PMEs are safe, dozens of events that have been safely conducted in recent months and health and safety tools to help the industry move forward. 

“Every piece of evidence that we’re seeing from the scientific and academic community tells us that, with the right practices in place, the traveling workforce and organizers of professional events can get back to the business of reconnecting with clients and colleagues,” said Roger Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel. “Ultimately, the business community will drive the return to business travel, and in doing so, will shift the economy back to greater normalcy.”

Economic Picture

Adam Sachs, CEO of Tourism Economics, addressed the sizeable impact of business travel and PMEs on the U.S. economy and its positive correlation to business profitability and productivity with some sobering statistics from Oxford Economics: In 2019, domestic business travel and PMEs generated $270 billion in direct travel spending and $338 billion in indirect spending, supporting 4 million jobs, while in 2020, the amount of direct spending shrunk by $211 billion or 68 percent. Without focused efforts to help the sector rebound, the forecast predicts it will take three more years to rebuild to pre-pandemic levels. 

“When we look forward, we forecast out based on current recovery rates and what's going on in the economy, and before we get fully whole in business travel and [PMEs] by 2024, we may have lost $522 billion in direct spending—that’s a half-trillion dollars gone over this recovery period, and you can add to that another $77 billion from the international business travel market,” Sachs said. “So, there's a lot at stake right now.”

Sachs also shared the following statistics based on the current climate:

  • 65% of companies were engaged in domestic business travel as of August, but intentions to continue traveling over the next three months have waned due to concerns over the Delta variant. (Source: Global Business Travel Association)
  • Group hotel room demand is roughly 55% of 2019 levels as of September. (Source: STR)
  • For every dollar invested in business travel, U.S. companies have experienced a $5.90 (or 590%) return in revenue, and U.S. business travel has yielded $1.60 in profits for every dollar spent. (Source: Oxford Economics)

“Even in these challenging times, these statistics [for revenue and profits] show that the health, productivity and innovation of businesses are directly tied to the ability to travel, meet, share ideas and promote products and services,” Sachs added.

Evidence-Based, Low Health Risks

Sachs also highlighted data from several sources indicating that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is significantly lower for PME attendees than that of the general population based on the following current full vaccination rates:  

  • 65% of U.S. adults (Source: CDC)
  • 72% of U.S. travelers (Source: Destination Analysts)
  • 78% of U.S. business travelers (Source: Destination Analysts)
  • 92% of U.S. adults with a college degree (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

“We see that clearly as you skew toward business travel, particularly toward meetings, conventions and trade shows, where higher education is widespread, you’re in an environment that is largely safe compared to the general population,” Sachs explained.

Echoing that sentiment, U.S. Travel’s Dow pointed to recently released data from healthcare scientists at The Ohio State University, which noted that PMEs are not super spreader events because they are well-controlled, monitored events that adhere to strict health and safety protocols. 

“The science has held true,” Dow said. “These events are taking place safely because we now have much more knowledge and many more tools than when COVID first started, and it's an industry wide-commitment to make them both safe and productive.”

Additionally, recent independent studies from the Mayo ClinicHarvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the U.S. Department of Defense validate the safety of air travel today based on current health and safety protocols.

Meanwhile, Epistemix, a computational modeling software company, has been working with the events industry over the past nine months through the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance (ECA) to perform several studies on the safety of events. The studies have determined that implementing protocols based on current COVID-19 conditions created environments that make events safe for attendees and the communities in which they are held. The scientific modeling by the ECA and Epistemix has shown that in-person PMEs pose a near-zero (0.001%) risk of COVID-19 transmission to attendees. 

John Cordier, CEO of Epistemix, provided one example of an event in Philadelphia, during which daily cases per 1,000 people were 4.5 for city residents, 3 for attendees at the event with no safety protocols in place and .7 for attendees with several safety protocols in place. The result was a four-times reduction in the risk of getting infected at the event with protocols such as mask-wearing and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, among others, which is even below the CDC guidelines for too much transmission in a given area, according to Cordier.

“The events industry is actually able to lead by putting these protocols in place and not only getting the attendees behind them, but the exhibitors and the event staff as well, and it’s not leading to driving cases out into the community,” Cordier said. “With that risk reduction, we’ve already been able to see more than 300 events happen safely in the U.S. this year alone.”

Events Running Safely

Several of those events have been staged by Emerald, a leading B2B exhibitions organizer. Since January, it has safely and successfully run dozens of B2B trade events and conferences across a diverse cross-section of industries. Emerald’s NY NOW and JA New York were the first two in-person events to run at New York City’s newly expanded Javits Center since its closing due to the pandemic, as well as Outdoor Retailer at the Colorado Convention Center. Emerald plans to hold more than 15 B2B in-person trade events across the U.S. before the end of the year.

“We engaged with Epistemix because we believe that we need the science to lead us even more to how we're going to safely open events,” said Hervé Sedky, chair of the board of ECA and president and CEO of Emerald. “We now have a really strong modeling that allows us to adapt the measures to have safe events.” 

The platform is a frictionless approach to verifying health status, whether it’s fully vaccinated or a negative COVID-19 test, according to Seidman-Becker. People enroll once and can use it everywhere, and partners can easily turn different modules on and off depending on their needs.

“We launched a campaign called ‘Come Back Better,’ which really aligns well with the “Let’s Meet There” initiative,” Seidman-Becker said. “We’re partnering with businesses large and small to make sure we never shut down again, and we have to put platforms such as the Health Pass in place in order to ensure that we stay open, that we stay healthy, and that we give consumers the confidence to have safer and easier experiences.”

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A data-driven approach coupled with industry-wide commitment to safety have been instrumental in the return of large professional events to Las Vegas, facilitating innovation and growth and accelerating the nation’s economic recovery.