Despite concerns about persistent uncertainty and a perceived lack of business travel, the second half of 2021 showed that those predictions were somewhat untrue for IHG Hotels & Resorts, and momentum for the brand is heading into 2022.
“While we continue to monitor the impact of the recent variant on travel, overall, we are optimistic about the industry’s rebound,” says Derek DeCross, senior vice president of global sales for IHG Hotels & Resorts. “I think 2022 will be a positive surprise for many people in terms of business travel, especially the latter half.”
The Future of Business Travel
While leisure travel continues to lead recovery, the future is bright for all segments of travel, particularly for U.S. groups and meetings, small and midsize enterprises (SME), and corporate transient, which are helping business travel make a comeback. The optimism is noted across the travel industry: airlines have seen increasing activity among their accounts, and American Express noted an increase in spending on its commercial cards in the second half of last year, which was led by small and midsize enterprises.
Where we see those peaks in travel, IHG expects continuing consumer demand, such as those in India, the Middle East, and Africa (IMEA), driven by milder travel restrictions across feeder markets, increasing flight availability, and the return of global events. “The largest share of business travel in this region is corporate bookings, as well as meetings and events,” says DeCross.
Adjusting to Variants
With the surges in different COVID cases, the travel community continues to monitor restrictions and adhere to local, federal, and international guidelines. Some customers are putting a cap on the size of groups and meetings while others are pushing forward with Q1 travel plans with additional protections like masks, vaccination requirements, and testing.
“The response from customers has varied and I think that will continue as we learn to coexist with COVID,” says DeCross. “We’ve seen some customers delay travel for a few weeks, while others are pushing all travel into Q2 or later.”
Business travelers and clients will see changes to IHG’s loyalty program that allow them to earn more points faster and use them in more ways. IHG recently announced initial changes to IHG Rewards, including a new Gold Elite tier, a renaming of the “Spire Elite” tier to “Diamond Elite,” and improved bonus point earning levels across all other Elite tiers. More changes to IHG Rewards will be announced later this year.
Groups and Meetings
In 2020, IHG launched its Meet with Confidence program to support the changing needs of meeting planners. The meetings and events industry experienced the most uncertainty throughout 2021, but IHG is hearing encouraging things from planners. “One of our biggest areas of focus is small and midsize meetings,” says DeCross. “Our global estate is well-positioned to accommodate these types of meetings with brands like Crowne Plaza, and we see Holiday Inn and Hotel Indigo becoming even bigger players in the groups and meetings segment.”
Changes IHG expects to see in groups and meetings include:
- More purposeful culture and team-building events as people look to make the most of their time together.
- More small and midsize meetings as people will be more conscious of the number of attendees.
- In IMEA, meetings and events operate within government guidelines and event capacity remains restricted.
- The success of the current Expo, along with the perception of the UAE as one of the safest travel destinations, presents opportunities for growth in early 2022.
- The FIFA World Cup in late 2022 will be a driver of revenue, along with an increase in spiritual and religious travel in the region.
- Strong growth in 2022 among SMERF (social, military, education, religious, and fraternal) groups.
From testing services and staying on top of public health guidelines for food and beverage and offers around technology, IHG will continue to work with planners to ensure their needs are fulfilled. Partnerships like those with CVS and Wellness for Humanity are examples of how IHG continues to adapt to the environment and needs of guests and meeting planners.
“I attended multiple trade shows over the past few months in the United States and France, and you can feel the energy and excitement as people reunite or meet for the first time,” says DeCross
SMEs have been one of the bright spots throughout the pandemic, and IHG Business Edge, IHG’s program for SMEs, has become a tool for buyers in the SME segment. “We see continued growth opportunities for our IHG Business Edge account base and are focused on winning even more of their business this year,” says DeCross.
Due to fluctuating concerns and the latest COVID variant, there are indications of a slight decline in SME travel for Q1, though not to the same degree as larger corporations, caused mostly by stricter public health guidelines in Europe.
Around the world, IHG sees positive signs in discretionary business travel in group and transient sectors.
“We’ve always said that in places people can travel, they are traveling—whether that’s for work or leisure,” says DeCross. “Our hotels are seeing essential business demand return. We’re looking forward to a strong year for business travel and are confident that we have the right programs in place to enable our customers to be successful, whatever their needs are.”