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 Procurement Director at a live show production company specializing in international and domestic touring events.
Type of company: Live Entertainment
Average group size: 10-100
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?
We had [one of our large shows] in June. For that, we stayed in the same location instead of touring. Everybody was there for 6 weeks, we hosted 8 [events] in one city without attendees. Of course, not having attendees was a huge difference for us. It was televised so fans could still view the event. For a small fee they could add a cardboard cutout of themselves in the stands! It was a huge success for the fans, the athletes, and our sponsors to be able to participate when everything at that time was completely shut down.
Since then, it has been about getting creative. We had several one-off events to maintain PR and provide revenue while satisfying our sponsorship agreements. It's really about keeping our name out there for our fans, having our fans see their favorite performers or athletes and bringing our people back on productions.
When (or DO) you see entertainment travel returning to its “normal” volume for your organization?
I would say normal not until 2022, honestly. It will not be until there are plenty of vaccines available and attendees are comfortable gathering in large groups.
For us, that’s the big one. As more was known about Covid and how dangerous it is, the safety of our employees and our attendees became paramount. Government mandates around the world also left us no choice, but to completely shut down all touring operations. With mandates in place where you could not gather in groups of more than six… it makes it difficult to host an event unless it is just for your family!
Live events are different to other areas of entertainment travel. For a production, they can accomplish this in a bubble. Over the years, we have increased our audience interaction with our performers/athletes. It is a big part of attending one of our live events and creates a memorable experience for the attendees. Meet the [performers/athletes], get their autographs, be pulled from the audience... now we are having to go back without that audience interaction. That part is sad for us because the performers/athletes loved meeting their fans just as much.
Personally, how have you had to shift your priorities as a travel manager during this time?
For a while now, travel has been on the back-burner of my priorities with a travel freeze in place. To be honest there are other areas we need to be focusing on right now. I am working in a larger procurement role as I am one person now covering the job of 8 who have been furloughed or separated.
Regarding travel, we are still on a corporate travel freeze with our events on tour. All travel must be approved from the Senior VP level. We should only be traveling if it is revenue generating and it must be proven as part of the approval process.
When we do travel, the big focus for us is utilizing unused tickets. [Before the pandemic], our travelers and employees were great at booking in advance (21+ days) because we know where the tours are going. With the shutdown, that left us with almost a million dollars in unused tickets.
And the journey of dealing with those has been interesting to say the least…! The process started with cancelling flights, getting refunds, then we looked at UATP cards. However, because many travel programs around the world were doing the same thing, there was a backlog in obtaining a card in a reasonable amount of time and travelers still had access to their unused tickets. There was nothing to stop an employee utilizing an unused ticket purchased by their work for personal use if they signed into their account. American was one of the only airlines I noticed where if a ticket was purchased through an agency, the traveler was not able to use it and was told they had to go through their TMC for the reservation. To counteract as much of that as possible, we asked our TMC to do custom reporting for us on any travel being reserved. I was also approving every ticket that was being issued.
To make sure we were maximizing the use of unused tickets, we turned off the flight booking capability for [our online booking tool] because we still had travelers trying to book online even though we had a popup saying DO NOT BOOK, CONTACT AN AGENT. Users can still see the flights, see the costs, but we prohibit purchase. Now everything that is booked for air goes through an agent to utilize the unused tickets.
We also opted to pay a fee or take a small loss vs. paying for a whole new airline ticket where possible. That definitely saved us a TON of money. I know for a lot of companies it was really hard because agents aren’t used to rebooking a ticket for Joe Schmo that then goes to Sally Saucer. Joe’s ticket is worth $600, Sally’s is only worth $450 – and we said, don’t care, use it! It was hard for our agents to get used to, but they adjusted. We definitely wouldn’t have made it through as cleanly with a different TMC.
How are you communicating with and supporting travelers differently as they return to travel despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and future uncertainty?
For the tours, we have a Safety and Security Council that included the hiring of an epidemiologist to assist with creating our new policies and procedures as they pertain to the pandemic, touring and primarily what we needed to do to keep our employees and performers safe. Without our cast and crew, we could not have a show. When on tour, they have a whole protocol they have to follow. I also created a document that is shared with everyone in the company. Additionally, we have a whole page in SharePoint dedicated to Covid and our what our Travel partners our doing to make traveling during a pandemic safe.
I suggest travelers bring pillow protectors - not cases, protectors. Hotels have removed decorative pillows, but there is no additional cleaning of the pillows you actually come into contact with while resting.
What specific measures will your organization take to keep your travelers safe when returning to travel?
As mentioned, we worked with an epidemiologist to develop what best practice looks like for us.
At the moment our process entails:
Do you have new resources in your toolkit that you would like to share with others who are starting to travel again?
I have a site, called Safe Esteem that is a Covid-19 Risk Explorer.. you put in demographics of where you’re going to and receive results back. It’s a great free resource. We also use the Covid Filters that come with the Dinova App to find restaurants with outdoor dining.
I have some resources I would love to have! Right now, we’re just trying to make sure we can get shows out. Travel is the very last thing I see our company focusing on to bring in new tools. I’d love to have Shep, for example.
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?
That this pandemic was going to be going on for months and that I should have grabbed more from my office. We thought it would be a month and we’d be good!
And like many, I wish beforehand we had a better handle on unused tickets. I think that is a break down revealed industry wide. We had begun to develop a process for unused ticket use 6 months before the pandemic, but it wasn’t a priority and there were also some tie-ups with finance. Now, I would tell myself, yes it may take a bit of effort but it’s money already spent… so why not use it?
Finally, it’s not a piece of advice but a piece of gratitude and perhaps a point of reflection for other managers. I have a close relationship with my TMC - both with my account manager and my agent supervisor. This year I have been so thankful to have that relationship. Unlike other travel managers who go out every 4-5 years for RFP, we’ve been with our TMC for 18 years. Our relationship has truly grown over those years, we’re a loyal client of theirs and they are loyal to us. Their support during the pandemic and with our unused tickets especially, has been invaluable.
Start your 30-day free trial today!