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.
A view into the world of a Corporate Travel Manager at an entertainment company.
Active Travelers in the past 2 months: 150
Average Group Size: 5-10 travelers
Regions visited in past 2 months: Regional Domestic, New York
Average annual travel spend: $20-25 million
Entertainment travel is on its way back across the world, largely before corporate travel for most companies. How has “Entertainment Travel – the Sequel” at a high level looked inside your organization?
Right now, we are mainly domestic. I would even say fundamentally domestic. Over the last few months, domestic has had a pretty decent uptake but international is still really, really difficult. Until most of those travel restrictions are lifted, it’s going to make Europe really hard. We have done a few sequestered events, which then becomes a case of getting people to a location, keeping them safe while they’re there and flying them out again... but that’s really only been two or three events.
Some production companies are using this time to split production travel from corporate travel. Is your company, and if so, why?
Across the board for us, [travel] is not a one size fits all. And it’s not just production vs. corporate. We have part of the company that’s very much white glove and front of the plane, and other areas that are back of the plane. Our travel program has to encompass all of that demand.
I don’t think we would ever separate our travel from a managed perspective. We want to keep everything as global as possible to both achieve the best rates and maintain general uniformity.
When (or DO) you see entertainment travel returning to its “normal” volume for your organization?
Right now, we’re at maximum 20% of our travel from last year, perhaps even less. We have really, really low volume. We aren’t moving at all yet. Compared to where we used to be, it really is nothing.
Moving forward in 2021, I see a small uptake throughout the year. But we’re an events company, we’re a face-to-face company. Until people can safely go to film festivals, until they can pack stadiums, until music can tour, until people can go to premieres… our business is not going to return to 2019 levels.
Quite simply, we need stadiums, we need events, we need people in proximity to one another. When that comes back, we will come back.
What are the factors internally that will affect a quicker return to travel?
I think it’s going to be vaccines. I think it’s going to be people’s comfortability level. And I think it’s got to be international government restrictions.
I’ve had a few travelers ask to go to an international location because their talent is filming there, but the process is testing before they fly, a two-week quarantine at a hotel… it’s just not realistic.
When it comes to shooting films, of course. You get the visa, it’s a prolonged period, you can meet the quarantine. But I’m talking about getting the corporate traveler in and out. I’m talking about attending a premiere, flying in for a set visit. Those trips are 4 days, not 2 weeks plus. In and out travel as it used to exist just does not right now.
But a lot of our travelers are already very, very eager to get back out, especially the music department. Tours - that’s their life. It’s what they do for a living and it’s their lifestyle.
Now from a future facing perspective on the return to travel, we can’t mandate travel and we can’t mandate a vaccine. Those who are comfortable will go, and those who aren’t, won’t. It’s that simple.
I think there’s a percentage of people that will get on a plane like nothing ever happened, a percentage of people that will never get on a plane again and there will be everybody else that needs to do it once and then they’re back in the saddle.
Personally, how have you had to shift your priorities as a travel manager during this time?
Well to start, as a travel manager, I’m one person and I’m managing it all and if that doesn’t speak to a shift, I don’t know what does. I mean, we had teams everywhere for support before, from a travel agency perspective especially.
We had a number of teams supporting us and all of them are practically gone. We had a TMC in Asia, one in Australia, two in the US – white glove and general, and one in Europe. But where we maybe had 20 people at one US agency and 10 over at the second one, there’s now two people and one person.
What I think will happen is that as it returns, we are going to have to hire back TMC staff very, very fast. I’ve made it clear that right now I’m fine, but for example, at one of our agencies we had exclusive agents and now we have people who are not basically trained on our account. I can manage it right now, but it won’t work for a permanent solution.
It’s not great - but right now, I can’t justify the volume. What I have been told though is, “We will bring back as needed. As soon as we see a credible volume, we’ll be right there.” And I get it, I really do get it. I look after my VIPs myself anyways, so it’s fine for now.
Internally, I spend more time speaking to security and risk, legal, duty of care. Everything has to be run past everybody… lots of hand holding. The job has become, horribly enough, more interesting. [Travel Managers] are listened to much more now. People care about our opinion.
People are nervous. There’s a lot of liability. There’s a lot of double checking. There’s a lot of unknown. I’ve become much more of an information desk, much more of a consultant, much more of a therapist even.
There’s a little bit of everything – but I find it way more important than I ever did to be completely on top of what’s going on –when change fees are waived, when aircraft is switched out, when geographic travel restrictions change. Those things were never on my radar before and now they’re every day of my life.
Finally, from an approval perspective, the process has more of a double layer to it now. We try and keep responsibility on the business units and the department heads. If you as a traveler are comfortable to travel and your department determines its ok… feel free, be my guest. But there are two levels of approval and I won’t book until it’s been confirmed.
It’s essential travel only and the definition is whatever your department head or boss determines to be essential. Which is basically to say, if not going would cause financial harm to the company.
Have your relationships with your internal stakeholders changed? If so - how and do you have advice for other managers navigating that type of transition?
Advice – I don’t know. But what I will say is I have taken this opportunity to raise my visibility, to get things how I want them, to get a real system down and be listened to.
Before [Covid-19] the response when bringing something to the table was often, “Eh, well, travel” and my argument was always “There’s a lot of money here and a lot of issues here!” Now everyone cares because it’s critical to the business.
Look at it this way. Either this situation and this spotlight is going to terrify you [as a travel manager], or you rise to the occasion. For example, my CFO was suddenly VERY interested and wanted every unused ticket known to man. And I took it as a good thing to have a spotlight on me. I took it as an opportunity to perform well.
It’s that thinking of, I’m either going to lose my job or turn this into a positive and expand myself and expand my role. There is a spotlight on us as travel managers right now, interpret that how you will.
How are you communicating with and supporting travelers differently as they return to travel despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and future uncertainty?
We’ve been in discussions about communicating restrictions and updates, recently. We [in the Travel Department] absolutely cannot be solely responsible for knowing everything because there are 6,000 people to look after.
We’ve built a deck, a general “Return to Travel – Things You Should Know”, but we’re going to make it the responsibility of the traveler to look where they’re going and check the restrictions. Of course, we will help them, but we cannot put that responsibility on the travel agency or me. It’s not possible, it’s an accident waiting to happen, restrictions change all the time.
We are outlining a deck, providing links to valid resources, but fundamentally you need to have double checked your situation before departure.
What specific measures will your organization take to keep your travelers safe when returning to travel?
That is the billion-dollar question.
Right now, we haven’t been vaccinating because everyone is still at home. We did have nice little PPE kits ready because we thought we would be back in the office sooner. And that’s all really well and good but now since this is now going to be a much more long-term situation, we’re trying to figure out if [PPE] will be an expensible item. But that adds an extra couple hundred dollars a trip, is the company going to absorb that cost? That is all to be determined at this point.
As this goes on, the question of testing as an expense is also an interesting one. Hotels are already starting to sort it out and we’ve seen resorts begin to talk about offering testing onsite as a service. I know if I was going on holiday and there was a resort that could test me before returning to the US vs. one where I had to arrange it myself, I know where I’m staying. And the same goes for booking for my travelers, I don’t want to have to worry about calling around in London to find somewhere for my travelers to be tested.
It will be interesting to see how suppliers develop in the marketplace to give themselves a competitive advantage and keep travelers safe. You know, perhaps just like you get your massage, you’ll get your Covid-19 test.
Do you have new resources in your toolkit that you would like to share with others who are starting to travel again?
I am also heavily involved in our immigration department now. We hired someone right before the pandemic for a different purpose, but they’ve become such an asset for us during this time.
Before, we didn’t have to necessarily worry about where someone’s passport was from, we would just book a flight. That has completely changed now. Someone’s passport is the difference between them getting into a country or getting out of a country.
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?
Chill. Get into it. I was inhaling in a paper bag for the first couple months. So just to adjust, because this will be longer than we ever thought.
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