Steven Schumacher is the award-winner director of sales at Discover Dunwoody, a position he has held since 2016. In his role, Schumacher generates leads for the DMO’s partner hotels and works with neighboring visitors’ bureaus on citywide events.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has changed the way we live our everyday lives. From the way we socialize to the way we work, no aspect of life seems to be left untouched, and business travel is no exception.
Before COVID-19 had a profound effect on the travel industry, business travelers were hopping on planes each week to meet with coworkers, attend conferences and network at corporate events — then all of that came to a halt. However, meeting planners and business travelers are adapting to the ever-changing environment to continue moving forward and safely meet in-person. One way to do that in 2021 is through drive-to meetings, which provide a way for employees to meet close to home, usually within a five-hour radius.
According to Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. airlines carried 70% fewer passengers in August 2020 than in August 2019. Not only were fewer people traveling for leisure, but business travel was also practically eliminated as employees started working from home and meetings became virtual. While businesses have adapted to continue meeting through video calls, screen fatigue is increasing and desire for human interaction is growing.
As meeting planners look for safe ways to fulfill companies’ desires for in-person interaction, drive-to meetings are becoming increasingly popular and are set to lead the way as companies ease back into safely gathering during the first half of 2021. Drive-to meetings also can combine with virtual meetings for a hybrid event, where employees meet by region, but have larger sessions with the whole company over a video call. This allows for smaller in-person gatherings with capability to bring the whole company together for important discussions.
Accessibility is vital when selecting a meeting destination, especially now. It has a large impact on attendance, and centrally located destinations with plenty of large drive-in feeder markets are preparing to welcome business travelers with personalized experiences and updated safety protocols. In fact, many of these destinations, including my home of Dunwoody, Georgia, rely on business travelers to bring income to the community. In 2019, 61% of visitors to Dunwoody were business travelers and when this segment disappeared, hotel occupancy plummeted. However, by focusing on playing up geographical convenience and targeting planners and attendees from markets that are in the area’s drive markets, destinations like Dunwoody have the potential to attract those who are ready to meet in-person again.
These smaller, regional meetings that target specific nearby feeder markets are set to be the driving force that will ultimately bring in-person meetings back full force. With vaccination efforts ramping up and case numbers slowly falling, people are ready to meet again, albeit differently than before. Hotels can prepare for meetings before attendees arrive in the destination with a variety of personalized experiences, on-site parking, catering options, contactless check-in and socially distant meeting set-ups.
One example of a hotel that is seeing an increase in small, drive-to meetings is the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center. These types of small group meetings make up the bulk of catering events at the hotel, producing higher checks even though they comprise fewer guests. To continue driving this catering revenue, the hotel is launching more creative menus in late 2021 to accommodate these smaller groups that come for drive-to meetings.
This hotel also encourages guests to use its mobile app as a contactless way to let the property know about the event, enabling the hotel to anticipate guests’ preferences prior to arrival and make their event special. These types of adjustments make it easy for event and meeting planners to coordinate a safe drive-to meeting and allow for easy collaboration between planners and hotels to meet the desires of their clients.
Destinations across the U.S. will certainly see drive-to meetings be one of the first ways that in-person meetings will recover as companies look for different ways to meet in place of endless video calls. Through embracing smaller, regional meetings, planners can provide the experiences their clients are craving all while reducing risk, making drive-to meetings one of the top choices for 2021 meetings and events.