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Sep 27, 2021

4 Takeaways from Skift Global Forum 2021

Samantha Shankman

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Skift Global Forum returned for the first time in two years last week at the TWA Hotel in New York’s JFK Airport. The annual event, hosted by Skift, welcomed executives from major airlines, hotels, and technology companies to speak in front of 150+ guests in New York with hundreds more joining online.

As one of the first industry events to take place following the pandemic, it was an exciting, engaging event in which the audience heard first-hand from the leaders and visionaries that are reimagining what’s next for the travel industry. Here are four major takeaways as they apply to the future of corporate travel and spend.

Corporate travel is coming back stronger than before.

Business travel is coming back and will quickly exceed pre-pandemic levels. As the world changes, the why and how behind travel might change but the innate desire to meet, connect and explore never will. But don’t take it from us.

Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta predicts that business travel demand will eclipse 2019 levels within the next 3 years. His company has already seen transient demand recover 75% thanks to small and medium-sized businesses. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly echoed his optimism that business travelers would return to pre-pandemic levels.

TripActions data supports these trends and shows bookings increasing week over week. Most recently, bookings from the EU and UK to the U.S. jumped 17% week-over-week following the Biden administration’s announcement that border restrictions would ease in November 2021.

Sustainability is a linchpin in business’s growth strategy post-pandemic.

While sustainability has been a hot topic for years, we’ve seen travel companies address the issue with a renewed commitment coming out of COVID-19. The urgency to address travel’s relationship with sustainability was clear throughout the conference.

Marriott International CEO Anthony Capuano announced the international hotel group is planning to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. He highlighted how Marriott’s associates, guests, owners, and investors have all shown more interest and urgency in putting sustainable practices into place. Then Accor CEO Sebastien Bazin announced the hotel group’s plans to join the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance—an industry group that uses the collective power of hotels to drive change.

Air France-KLM Group CEO Ben Smith also jumped onboard, explaining how the airline had committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 for international flights and by 2024 for domestic flights. Air France had to downsize its network last year when France banned flights on routes that could be traveled by train in less than two hours.

TripActions has similarly heard travelers’ and corporations’ desire for more sustainable business travel. As a result, the team introduced the TripActions Sustainability Suite earlier this year to help corporations and individuals track and reduce their carbon emissions. Its rail booking features are also consistently upgraded to provide alternatives to air travel.

How we live and work has forever changed.

Skift Global Forum kicked off with a fascinating discussion between Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali and Airbnb founder and CEO Brian Chesky in which Chesky outlined a vision for a new way of working and living. No longer tethered to the office, an increasingly wide employee base is now able to travel for longer and work remotely.

While traditional business travel is evolving because of the pandemic, executives across the board also emphasized how travel—both for work and leisure—would increase as a result of these changes. The pandemic accelerated forces that were already at play, which strategist Parag Khann explained could influence a great migration.

TripActions CEO Ariel Cohen saw these forces at play earlier on in the pandemic and—in addition to other product enhancements—the team at TripActions recently released an industry-first Team Travel tool, which helps bring remote team members together for company events.

Events and Conferences are back.

Throughout the event, which was held both in-person and virtually, many travel executives remarked how the Skift Forum was evidence that it’s time to get back together in person. Similar to TRAVERSE 21, Skift Global Forum required that all attendees show proof of vaccination to attend and mandated mask use inside of the venue—a small price to pay for the valuable networking.

Following the event, Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali tweeted, “If you are doing an event this fall & thinking through safety protocols, you'd be surprised how many are fine with vaccinated-only, indoor-mask-mandates-the-whole-time, just to get back out there meeting & listening to other humans.”

We couldn’t agree more. Join us in-person or online tomorrow, September 29, as we celebrate the return of the annual TripActions travel and tech festival TRAVERSE. There’s still time to register today!

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