The Return to Entertainment Travel: Take 1

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It’s official, “The Return to Travel” is green-lit.

Over the last 9 months, the Tripgrid team have kept an ear to the ground with our customers and colleagues in the entertainment travel industry - listening, learning, adapting. As we move into 2021, we have seen a mix of productions already back on the road and those planning their strategic return.

What we haven’t seen (yet) is a public forum for that return where best practice, learnings and advice are shared.

Behind closed doors? Of course. Shared as a resource for all? Not quite. Desired? DEFINITELY - at least that’s what our ears tell us.

With that, Tripgrid is pleased to share BTS: Entertainment’s Return to Travel - the series that takes an anonymous look behind those closed doors at how a variety of productions are making their way into 2021.

Thank you to our clients and colleagues for their participation - and the idea…! ;)

Produced with support from Solutions & Strategy Consulting.

Take 1

A view into the world of a Travel Coordinator at an independent production company specializing in unscripted television series.

Type of company: Unscripted Television Production

Active Productions: 6

Crew size: 5-15

Filming Locations in past 2 months: 18 US states, 1 international

Average annual travel spend: $1-5 million

Top Tips

  • Reach out to your crew members on an individual basis to learn what type of travel makes them feel comfortable and safe
  • Utilize ground transport instead of flights in order to cut down on risk
  • Prioritize traveler comfort/safety over travel cost
  • Advocate for flexibility inside your travel program with the C-Level
  • Weigh the cost of hiring local crew vs. sending your own
  • If you are a domestic production, utilize CDC guidelines to track cases and best practice
  • Build weekly documents to share with you production using relevant CDC updates

Full Interview

Entertainment travel is on its way back across the world, largely before corporate travel for most companies. How has The Return to Travel looked inside your organization?

The networks we work with were really desperate for content. Things really went to a standstill in March/April.

After that, being a domestic company filming the majority of our content in the US, we are in a fortunate position where we can drive to a lot of our shoots. In fact, we are used to driving and still have been where we can instead of flying. So in that respect, it hasn’t changed the way we operate substantially.

More-so because our crews are pretty small and we’re a tight knit company. We have a staff supervisor who turns in all of our insurance to make sure we are above board there and we’re also buying PPE and supplying our crews with them.

As per company policy, [wearing a mask] is a personal choice, we don’t mandate that our staff wears them.

But we do look out for our crew and what their choice is. For example, if one person wants to socially distance and wear a mask, we rent 2 vehicles sometimes for a crew that would normally have 1 vehicle. We have had some staunch mask wearers who only want to stay in hotels and some who prefer Airbnbs because they would have a kitchen and not have to eat out which made them feel safer than depending on restaurants.

When (or DO) you see entertainment travel returning to its “normal” volume for your organization?

The pandemic really hit [our state] in March. That was when schools closed. All summer we were pretty slow up until August. In general, we were in a lull… our main show was airing so we weren’t filming yet but waiting for the next season. Normally, we would have had other projects but we just didn’t.

Since the end of August up until now though, we’ve been back up at pretty much full capacity.

Personally, how have you had to shift your priorities as a travel coordinator during this time?

I think the cost of things has become a lower priority than it was before.

We’re booking the fancier hotels that have kitchens in them. We’re spending more on vehicles so they have the ability to drive to shoots instead of fly. Flights aren’t cheap but actually flights aren’t horrible right now. And we also typically change flights, which is normally $200 a ticket but is free right now because the airlines have waived the change fees.

And cars can be expensive…! With the amount of gear we have, we typically need a suburban. I just paid $5,400 for a 3 week rental of a suburban! And because of the pandemic, car rentals are hurting right now so we’re not finding any flexibility in rates.

How are you communicating with and supporting travelers differently as they return to travel despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and future uncertainty?

With every shoot we are sending out a comprehensive document about the location’s amount of cases, amount of deaths, amount of recovered cases and state guidelines. Our Associate Producers are building that document by hand for the majority. Our shoots have been 3-4 weeks long and once a week they send a new one out so it stays up to date as cases changes and guidelines change.

What specific measures is your organization taking to keep your travelers safe when returning to productions?

As I mentioned earlier, we are really looking out for our crew and what makes them as individuals feel comfortable. So I contact each of our camera guys personally to see how they’re feeling. If one traveler wants a hotel and the rest are ok with Airbnb, then we want to take care of our crew and for them to feel safe. If it costs more money to keep them safe and make them feel comfortable then that’s what we do.

If we were a bigger company, we wouldn’t be able to do that. In that way it’s nice that we are a smaller company and can provide those options.

And so far, it’s working. No one in the field has had Covid.

Do you have new resources in your toolkit that you would like to share with others who are starting to travel again?

For our purposes, we go to the CDC guidelines for that state. With regards to the documents our APs build, that is where they are getting their information.

We’ve also been hiring local crews for shoots where it's not as easy to get our guys there because of distance. But I believe there’s something lost there when it’s not your own team. Not having our staff guys there who know our company… I haven’t had a day off except Thanksgiving. I’m contacted every day, every evening by freelancers who don’t know how we want to do things which is creating more work for us from a management perspective.

What is the single biggest piece of advice you wish that you had been able to give yourself or other travel managers back in March?

I think the biggest thing I’ve appreciated is the flexibility. From higher ups and for our camera men. People are willing to be flexible.

We had to ask for that flexibility. We did have to fight for it at the beginning. Person to person collaboration is something our company has thrived on and they had a hard time giving [face to face, in office time] up. But there’s been no problems since we’ve all been working from home.

So I would say, don’t be afraid to fight for what makes you and your travelers feel safe and comfortable during this time.

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