Since the pandemic began, we have seen profound changes in the ways people connect and do business with each other. The world and its workforce have learned to be flexible in many capacities whether in-person or online.
As the leader of APCO Worldwide’s Washington, D.C., office and Mid-Atlantic region, I’ve been constantly proud and empowered by my colleagues both here and around the world, especially throughout these difficult times. Business travel has always been key part of our culture, allowing us to meet and connect with our colleagues around the globe. Travel and connection drive our success and we are excited to see them return—even if what that may look like is evolving.
The travel industry has had to adjust to not only changes in capacity, health and safety, but also how to communicate these measures to the public. To gain insight into the future of travel, we partnered with the Greater Washington Board of Trade to foster conversations between some of our regions greatest leaders in business travel: Jack Potter, president and CEO at Metro Washington Airport Authority (MWAA); Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO at Destination DC; Ricky Smith, executive director of Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) and Ian Rainey, senior vice president at Northeast Maglev.
As the pandemic continues to progress, so do the regulations to keep us safe and allow for a gradual return. The safety of my colleagues—who are also my friends—is my top priority. And as a leader, my role is to steer us through the challenges we face and communicate how we plan to address them.
And all the leaders we spoke with felt the same. According to Potter, “it is extremely important that people feel safe in the environment. That’s first and foremost.” For the travel industry, that looked like adopting all of the necessary standards and precautions—sanitizing stations, masking, social distancing barriers—and then realizing that the real challenge was communicating their dedication to these changes. For Smith and BWI, social media “went a long way in helping people understand that it was safe to come into the facility.”
And once safety measures were transparently communicated and understood by the public, we saw travel, especially business travel, pick up across the region. In Washington, business travel not only bolsters our economy, but fuels our pace of life, filling our restaurants, hotels and event centers.
Prior to the emergence of the omicron variant, when the state of the pandemic allowed us to breathe a little easier, I felt the resurgence of the travel industry throughout our business, allowing us to reconnect with clients and colleagues at in-person events, meetings and conferences. I’m hopeful that we can return to a world where this reconnection can happen even more because it was easy to see that business is better when we are meeting.
But, we have also seen the value of remote work over the last two years and it persists as a welcome and productive alternative as we go through the swings of the pandemic. I have found myself constantly impressed by the resilience and innovation of our company.
I am eager for more opportunities to increase engagement through in-person connection. Our experts agree that despite the productivity that still exists in the virtual workplace, something is still missing. “Even though there’s a train of thought that hybrid is going to take over the need to meet face-to-face, the reality is that’s not going to happen,” said Ferguson. “There are probably going to be some things we’ve learned in terms of how we can utilize hybrid meetings and the technology moving forward with meetings. But people want to meet face-to-face and we’re all going to benefit from that. And that demand is there.”
Despite the challenges and uncertainty with the current state of business travel, there also exists opportunity. Our role as leaders is to elevate and lift up opportunities within our workplaces as well as in the marketplace. As the world continues to evolve, the most valuable assets in our arsenal, as they always have been, are our people and our connections to each other. The future of business travel is bright, largely, due to the innovative thinkers and doers moving because of it.