It’s official, “The Return to Travel” is green-lit.
Over the last year, 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 Director at a major film studio.
Job Title: Corporate Travel Director
Type of company: Major Film Studio
Active Travelers in the past 2 months: 6 Senior Executives
Average Group Size: 1
Regions visited in past 2 months: NY, LA, Atlanta, Chicago (Domestic)
Average annual travel spend: $10-15 million
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?
Well, when the pandemic hit, we were the one of the earliest studios to push back a major film release in 2020. Since then, we have pushed that same film multiple times. Unfortunately, now the enthusiasm for those films may be diluted. I don’t know that the same fresh excitement will be there.
Here in the US, we are only active because we have about a half dozen senior executives who are traveling and preparing for the release of [those films that were put on standby], but that only started in the last three weeks. Up until that point we had maybe one or two IT guys going back and forth between Los Angeles and New York. Other than that, there has been no air travel at all. I’m sure there has been some local travel within NY or LA where it’s ground transport, but that’s about it.
We also have productions going on outside of the country. Right now, we have a movie being filmed entirely in Italy. We have hired production people there, all the travel people are there, everyone has been hired from that location. I think that is what a lot of us are doing right now as opposed to trying to move people around to accommodate these productions.
Conversely, we’re doing the same thing in Australia. We have something going on in Australia and they’re hiring specifically in that locale.
We’re not moving people from country to country because the restrictions are such that it makes it that much more difficult for us to accommodate production. So, what they’re doing is trying to keep all the people that are working on these productions local.
Is hiring local crews a big shift for the organization compared to how you were operating pre-Covid?
It really isn’t.
Even here when we film domestically, it’s the same thing. Our TMC imagines that well ok, you’re going to be filming in Atlanta, so we’re going to be moving all these people to Atlanta, finding housing for them. And the reality is… no! We go and we look for the Production Assistants, the Grips and the camera men, we look for them in the location we shoot. Atlanta is a big hub for production, there are plenty of people there. Production housing becomes less of an issue if you’re local to the area and the people that we do have to put in long-term housing are opting for things like Airbnb.
So, it’s not as unfamiliar to us as one might think. It’s just that in the past, if you were the production team filming on a big movie filming in Norway and then filming in Kingston, Jamaica, those people came back and forth. They traveled back and forth. Now what we’re doing, at least during the pandemic, we’re trying to adhere to the locations that are the primary locations. There may be post-production work done somewhere else but for the most part, it’s all being done in the location they’re filming.
When (or DO) you see entertainment travel returning to its “normal” volume for your organization?
I would say we’re between 6-10% of our normal travel at the moment. Really down to nothing.
With the addition of this third Johnson & Johnson vaccine, we see things moving a little bit faster than we anticipated. Right now, the general consensus is that sometime in the 3rd quarter, we’ll start to approach what for us is considered normal. But with that, we’re still looking at a travel budget of probably 50% or less than we normally would have in a year.
There are probably going to be less trips than there were in 2019 simply because of zoom conferences and things like that. I think it will change the playing field. I don’t think we’ll be making unnecessary or frivolous trips; it will be business necessary trips.
Even in 2022, I don’t think we’ll be back to our 2019 volumes. When we get back to some semblance of normalcy, I’m anticipating that we’ll be at about 75% of what we had done historically in a good year.
I can tell you that production is tricky, you spend what you have to spend to make a film, that’s just how that goes. But corporate? Corporate will definitely drop. We already know we’ll have less in the office now. A lot of people will be doing what they’re doing now, working virtually.
We’re heavier on production travel and have always had more spend there. Even the production travel will probably not be as adventurous as it has been. As you start to find out that you can film something on location in Philadelphia and pass it off as Czechoslovakia, ya know, you’ll do that!
Personally, how have you had to shift your priorities as a travel manager during this time?
If there is one priority that is going to come more into focus, it’s duty of care. Duty of care is going to be our priority right now.
For me, there haven’t been a lot of requirements to make significant changes. We’re pretty comfortable with the technology internally, our technology improved in 2020 because we had time to focus on things that we did not have time for before.
With our suppliers and the technology that we use, we’re in that mindset that coming out of a pandemic may not be the best time to make changes. Stay the course and see how it goes before you start making changes. We had a lot of people reach out to us right before the pandemic hit, and we weren’t having conversations then but were open to listening.
Our priorities haven’t changed significantly. Duty of Care, our focus on the approval process, our policies - those haven’t changed. When I ask [my internal stakeholders], “So what are you expecting?” The answer is that they are expecting me to make our travelers comfortable with the concept of going back to flying.
So, to that end, pretty much throughout this pandemic, I’ve flown. I have flown all the carriers that we use, I’ve critiqued them, I have been in touch with them about things that haven’t been consistent on different trips with the same carriers, things that are consistent between carriers. And I have to say, happily I’ve seen some changes that some of our air partners have put in place, so we’ve been fortunate.
What my company expects from me is that the interactions I have with our partners will go a long way in making sure that our travelers are comfortable once we get back to the business of travel. When we do open the office again, I’m setting up face-to-face meetings with all of our suppliers and our travelers, so we can establish again, that level of comfort for our travelers. Because if you haven’t traveled for a year, you sometimes need to see those processes and safety precautions yourself.
How are you communicating with and supporting travelers differently as they return to travel despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and future uncertainty?
Going into the pandemic, we had a really poor communication system in place. It was not a good intranet and there was no place where people could go and talk about ideas and share concerns. Which you think for a major studio, we would have had! For me in travel that was a big deal, because the places I had come from, I had put travel sites in place that were interactive. For example, if you happened to fly with a certain airline who had double miles, you could go in and share that so other travelers were aware as well.
We didn’t have that here. I advocated for that when I first joined them, so I was fortunate that they allowed me to be a part of the process of putting together [our new intranet site]. It’s where all our information for HR, Travel, etc. can be put. So, all of the travel information that comes into me from our suppliers, I then re-write and upload to the site, so people know what’s going on.
We also had no partnership with a duty of care provider. Now we have a partnership with WorldAware and they’re also providing us with updates from a security and risk perspective.
We are now communicating in a way where even our travelers are not traveling, they feel more comfortable with the idea of traveling.
Do you have new resources in your toolkit that you would like to share with others who are starting to travel again?
Well, as I mentioned from a toolkit perspective, we now have WorldAware. We have a security team and these guys are former secret service and former FBI. So, their sources came from the government, which was great, but it was difficult for them to be able to keep up with every traveler, so we wanted to give them a way to do that by integrating the data that we get from our TMC with a duty of care solution. So, we partnered them with WorldAware. Now our security gets a regular stream any time that someone travels, they can pinpoint them to the hotel location, the street, whatever it is, and they can get in touch with them at a drop of a hat if there is an incident that requires their involvement.
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?
It’s maintaining supplier relationships. It’s easy to forget in the pandemic. Nobody’s traveling. Nobody’s staying in hotels. Nobody’s using ground transport. Nobody’s flying. Even I got comfortable in the beginning, that thought of “Well, we’ll just wait until it all comes back”.
And then as one of my contracts expired, I realized “Woah!”, I really should be keeping in constant contact with our suppliers and contractors. They are in just as much if not more of a bind than we are. We’re not spending money; they’re not MAKING money.
I started reaching out to our suppliers and our partners and I realized early on that the impact of the pandemic was that a lot of my contacts had disappeared, they were gone. That was huge as I started having contracts come up that were expiring. Our airline partners were good, right from the start, they addressed all these things. Our hotel and ground, not so much. They weren’t seeing the same financial benefit from the government that the airlines were seeing.
I realized that it was important for me to make a list of all of our partners and suppliers and reach out to them on a regular basis to make sure that they were healthy, or we knew what was going on with them. I think for them it was appreciated, because it let them know we were in this together. We weren’t traveling, but our intent was to get back to that and anything that we could do to support them in the interim was helpful. For example, I was still going out during the pandemic and doing site visits.
I believe in having direct relationships with my partners. I don’t want the TMC to create a relationship for me. I want these guys to know that we’re equally important to each other.
And we still have those relationships now. Where contracts have expired, we have re-upped them. I think for me that was the single most valuable I did during this pandemic – maintaining those relationships and commitments to my partners.
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