After a pause of nearly 18 months caused by the pandemic, travel is slowly re-starting.
Virtual meetings are giving way to hybrid events with small groups travelling locally to attend gatherings which are then broadcast to a wider audience virtually.
People are starting to move again, particularly in the U.S., Europe and some parts of Asia. Individual business travelers are back on the road, sharing their first impressions of half-full airports on social media.
That left us with a question related to group travel—can we realistically travel to attend an event? The answer is not a simple yes or no; it depends.
Crossing borders is not as simple as it used to be.
Can your attendees travel to the country where you want to organize your event? With travel restrictions mandating COVID-19 testing or lengthy isolation periods in some countries, attendees may need to take expensive tests or quarantine. The lucky ones from countries with low level of infections may find it difficult to be re-admitted to their countries or follow long (and expensive) quarantine terms in ad-hoc accommodations.
My main suggestion to anybody planning an international event is to become familiar with travel requirements and evolution of the pandemic in the chosen destination. The country of origin of your travelers also needs to be taken into account. If requirements in the country where you are planning to host the event and the country of origin of travelers are mutually agreeable, it is the best choice. We recommend using CWT Travel Essentials, a tool that searches entry requirements per country and by country of origin.
Instability about airline schedule remains.
As airlines are not back at full capacity, there are less flight options and even confirmed flights may cancel. Europe and Latin America have experienced up to 50% of flights changed or cancelled by the airline during the summer of 2021.
There are many reasons for cancellations. If airlines haven’t reached capacity for a particular flight, they may consolidate to operate just one aircraft. Or where there is opportunity to increase lift in a market, additional flights may be added and schedules adjusted. We are also seeing changes due to crew availability as many airlines haven’t fully recovered from the impact of the pandemic and are still calling back and re-training staff. In some countries, contact tracing is forcing self-isolation which also affects airline staff.
Group travel is much more than flights.
There is another consequence of the pandemic. Downline services, such as car rentals, have been impacted. Rentals are booming, in particular in cities with a long tradition of events and conferences. If not booked in advance, you may not have rental car availability in cities, such as Hawaii, Las Vegas or Orlando.
Plan ahead but be flexible.
Start planning your event soon. Airlines are trying to keep up with the return to travel and constant change in demand. We are also witnessing an increase in rail traffic in Europe and early planning will get you the best fares. With airlines amending cancellation terms, advance planning often comes with zero or limited cancellation costs.
As ongoing uncertainty of travel restrictions due to the pandemic will remain, the added value of event agency experts taking care of your attendees will bring you assurances and increased confidence. We are best positioned to manage changes and cancellations.
Patty Clark is Director, Global Group Travel Services, CWT Meetings & Events
This article first appeared at the CWT blog. Reprinted with permission