Meeting Mentor Magazine

July 2024

New Research: In-Person Events Offer Competitive Advantage

In-person conferences, events and business travel offer companies and associations a competitive advantage post-pandemic, according to a new report by the San Diego State University School of Hospitality & Tourism Management and American Hotel & Lodging Association.

The results of some new research San Diego State conducted recently on behalf of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) have some heartening news for meeting and event professionals. While the virtual options organizations had to rely on through most of the strictest of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on meetings and travel were better than not meeting at all, now that restrictions are easing and people are again meeting face to face, the differences are becoming clearer.

For example, more than two-thirds of those surveyed said that digital events aren’t as effective as face-to-face when it comes to facilitating productivity, building organizational strength and fostering collaboration.

“Whether organizations are looking to boost productivity, organizational strength or collaboration, they’ll be better able to achieve these goals with business travel and in-person meetings. And as America transitions from pandemic-era virtual settings to more of a ‘new normal,’ businesses and organizations that resume business travel and meetings more quickly can gain a competitive edge over those that do not,” said Carl Winston, founder and director of the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at San Diego State University.

In fact, the pandemic created an even greater need for face-to-face interaction than was present pre-pandemic, the researchers found. While the only choice for many during the pandemic was relying on virtual meetings, that lack of face-to-face communications negatively impacted workplace culture and team building, as well as reduced productivity, say Winston and Florida International University Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management Associate Professor Dr. Lisa Cain, who co-led the research.

“There is a time and place for using virtual meeting platforms, but business travel and the face-to-face meetings it facilitates generate more positive outcomes for individuals, organizations, clients and customers in a way that may just be irreplaceable,” said Cain.

Similarly, the results of a separate recent survey conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of AHLA found that almost two-thirds of workers and 77% of business travelers agree that it’s more important than ever to reinstate in-person experiences such as business trips and conferences — even ongoing virtual and hybrid work arrangements mean that screen time has not gone away. The results were even more striking when it comes to millennials, who now make up the majority of the workforce. The research found that 80% of millennials prefer to communicate with colleagues in-person, so organizations that facilitate face-to-face connections between coworkers and clients could have a potential advantage when it comes to employee recruitment, retention and client relations.

However, even with new research bolstering the need for face-to-face meetings and events, hotels are not yet seeing the demand from the business travel and meetings side of their business that they are seeing on the leisure side, though group business is on the increase over 2021, according to AHLA’s State of the Industry report. This is because many businesses still have corporate travel bans and restrictions in place, which is pushing a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels to 2024, the research found. However, global business travel is forecast to grow by 14% this year, and will reach 80% of 2019 levels by Q3, barring future impediments due to COVID or other factors.


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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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