It’s somewhat unusual for the U.S. Travel Association, the non-profit that advocates for all components of the U.S. travel industry, to take a deep dive specifically into the meetings industry. But its recent report, Back to Business: Navigating the Safe Return of Meetings and Their Role in Economic Recovery, does just that because, as the authors say, “Safely rebuilding business travel and allowing meetings and events to return in a safe and structured manner will be vital to restoring the U.S. economy, bringing back American jobs, and re-establishing our leadership and position on the global stage.”
The 32-page document provides a rich overview of the economic impact that business travel and meetings have on the economy and the effects Covid-19 has had on the sector, before addressing the challenges for the recovery process. Those challenges include the economic downturn and travelers’ health concerns, and what makes U.S. Travel’s report valuable is the way it has pulled data from multiple sources to make its case. A who’s who of reliable sources, including the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, I-Meet Planner Confidence Index, hotel analytics company STR, Global Business Travel Association, Professional Convention Management Association, and Destination Analytics, all contribute to this state-of-the-industry portrait.
Perhaps the most uplifting element of the report reminds readers just how effective vaccines might be in getting business travel and meetings back on track. Noting the encouraging vaccine news from Pfizer in mid-November, the report highlights a GBTA member poll in which 52 percent said that an effective vaccine was the development that would have the most positive influence on 2021 business travel plans, while another 24 percent said “decreased Covid-19 transmission rates,” which is likely to follow from the vaccines.
While some have reported that it could take until 2024 for business travel and meetings to return to the levels seen in 2019, U.S. Travel argues that legislative actions and marketing initiatives can improve that timeline. These eight ideas are among them:
• Creating a tax credit to restore activity in the business meetings and events sector
• Restoring the entertainment-expense deduction
• Creating a tax credit to help businesses offset the cost of Covid mitigation, such as structural barriers and personal protective equipment.
• Implementing opt-in biometric identification and touchless solutions more widely
• Streamlining the Trusted Traveler Programs by creating common enrollment, security vetting, and screening procedures
• Fast-tracking technologies that prioritize sharing and verification of Covid vaccinations and negative test results (e.g., CommonPass)
• Establishing liability protection for businesses that follow guidelines to protect employees and customers from Covid
• Creating pandemic-risk insurance to provide a federal backstop to help give confidence to businesses and parties to plan events