April 23, 2024

Team tactics

Bringing people together is more vital than ever in the new hybrid workplace, prompting the emergence of a new type of business travel. Bev Fearis reports

Sniper shooting, off-road driving and a lesson in escape tactics from ex-SAS soldiers in the Scottish highlands isn’t exactly your bog-standard team meeting, but it’s one of the bespoke experiences on offer from a new dedicated corporate division at Untold Story Travel. And, despite costing up to £10,000 a head, it’s proving popular.

Like many in the industry, the luxury travel agency spotted a rise in demand for group itineraries with “more meaningful and intelligent” experiences to help organisations build culture and motivate their people through personal and professional development. Alternative experiences include a snowmobile safari in Iceland or tracking dolphin mega-pods with marine expedition experts in Costa Rica.

“In the new world of hybrid working, with teams increasingly displaced, there’s a greater need to bring people together,” says Melanie Allvey, Head of Corporate for the London-based travel specialist and also a qualified therapist and events professional.

“Our corporate customers are asking us to facilitate an environment where their people can learn to work as a team again and provide the human element that we all need.”

“Teams are becoming more mindful of the purpose of the meeting, with a renewed focus on topics that can be discussed and resolved more effectively face-to-face”

Many predicted that the pandemic would spell the end of internal meetings and that we’d all be happy to carry on meeting virtually, but this hasn’t been the case.

“Not having an office space has created the rising trend of team travel, bringing employees together to bond and create relationships with their colleagues. We’ve noticed this increasing significantly over the past few years, with no signs of slowing down,” says Ela Nowacka, Director of Sales at PPHE Hotel Group.

Catherine Logan, Regional Senior Vice President EMEA and APAC for the GBTA, also reports a “robust resurgence” in in-person meetings, reflecting a “growing desire among employees to engage in work-related travel and enjoy collaborative work experiences”.

“More than 65% of GBTA members now operate a hybrid working environment, and last year travel managers estimated their organisation would allocate 19% of managed travel spend to internal meetings,” she notes.

Business travellers surveyed in the latest GBTA BTI Outlook forecast an 18% growth in internal group business travel when compared to 2019, further proving the trend.

American Express GBT’s 13th Annual Global Meetings and Events Forecast concluded that internal meetings will continue to significantly drive growth in the sector in 2024, primarily driven by organisations seeking to build relationships and connect their distributed workforces.

What’s the purpose?

These team gatherings are not the same as corporate ‘jollies’ from times gone by, designed purely to incentivise and reward salespeople. Post pandemic team get-togethers generally incorporate strategy meetings, creative time and team-building sessions, with specific objectives in mind.

“Teams are becoming more mindful of the purpose of the meeting, with a renewed focus on content and topics that can be discussed and resolved more effectively face-to-face,” explains Louise Kilgannon at corporate travel consultants Festive Road.

“After the prolonged experience working remotely and seeing everyone on a screen, when a team does get together in person, many feel invigorated by the experience, so the desire to do it more is there.

“Furthermore, planning a meeting in person is more significant than assuming getting together is the default. There is more focus on measuring the real ‘impact’ of the meeting from a people and planet perspective.”

“Typical corporate meetings venues may be eschewed for more creative options for co-working and for relaxing and creating together”

Scott Blondel, Reed & Mackay Head of Event Travel, believes there needs to be more thought behind bringing whole companies or departments together “given the benefits it has for culture, wellbeing and training”.

“In addition, as travel has always been seen as a perk, in this competitive job market – with the battle to recruit and retain talent still very high – some companies are using incentive or team travel as a way to attract new hires or maintain workplace morale.”

Anna Snoep, Director of Operations for Inntel, notes that most of these team meetings include an overnight stay, a team dinner and some sort of team-building or connecting activity.

“These are quite often focused on wellness or personal growth. It is important that the delegate feels there is value in attending in person by connecting with their team and/or learning a new skill,” she observes.

Kirsty Tod, Reed & Mackay General Manager Events EMEA, says for offsite events of more than one day, clients are planning gaps in schedules to give their people free time “whether that’s the opportunity to relax by the pool, use hotel facilities or take a walk around the destination”. 

“Team-building activities are varied,” she adds. “While we are still seeing demand for the usual cocktail making master-classes and treasure hunts, we’ve had clients request salsa lessons, graffiti classes, perfume making in Paris and cookery classes. We recently had a ‘Game of Thrones’ team-building event where guests got very competitive!”

Little and often

Where previously companies may have got together for an internal meeting just once a year, they’re now meeting more frequently, observes Dennis Vilovic, Co-Founder and CEO of cloud-based meeting platform TROOP. “We’re seeing more all-company meetings, as well as regional, departmental and team meetings,” he says.

“When we speak to our customers and the wider industry there is a consensus that companies and employees recognise the need to bring colleagues together in person, to unite teams, collaborate, build company culture or close a sale.”

“Not having an office space has created the rising trend of team travel, bringing employees together to bond and create relationships with their colleagues”

TROOP is seeing a rise in smaller meetings through its platform, with almost 80% of meetings for 20 people or below, and 54% of these for internal meetings.

“These meetings include everything from board meetings and strategy meetings to various types of leadership retreats, departmental gatherings, training meetings, boot camps, team building, project workshops and onboarding sessions,” says Vilovic.

Change of venue

Henrietta Balint, Chair of the GBTA Europe Meetings and Event Committee, says there has been a drop in the traditional one-day meetings where teams “brainstorm and discuss” in a hotel conference room.

“Companies are now strategically planning meetings around employee engagement and satisfaction, stretching team travel to two to four days, ensuring the meeting is engaging and in line with company objectives and really concentrating on the benefits of meeting in person. We see more requests for unusual venues and experiences to foster collaboration, inclusivity and team building.”

Meredith Smith, responsible for meetings and events practice at Festive Road, has noticed the same trend.

“Some dispersed teams are now finding more innovative venues for meetings. Typical corporate meetings venues may be eschewed for more creative options for co-working and for relaxing and creating together.”

“Our clients are asking us to facilitate an environment where their people can learn to work as a team again and provide the human element we all need”

Inntel’s Snoep agrees. “Venues tend to be of a higher standard, a bit quirky or different or situated in a place of beauty or nature, so we are expanding and enhancing our supplier base to include innovative suppliers who offer a unique service, product or activity.

“Alongside our more traditional suppliers, we also include wellness suppliers such as yoga coaches and motivational speakers. In terms of venues, we continue to add quirky, unique and off-the-beaten-track venues. The quality of catering has become more important, as well as the sustainability credentials of the venue.”

Organisations are also actively searching for locations that help reduce flight times, not only to limit the carbon impact but also to reduce costs.

The right location

The number one challenge, according to TROOP, is comparing destinations and deciding where to meet.

“It’s so time-consuming,” says Vilovic, who claims that in 2023, TROOP helped clients save $31 million dollars, 176,000 hours travelling and 15,000 tonnes of carbon emissions by automating the process.

“The second biggest challenge for meeting planners is efficient meeting planning, closely followed by budgeting and cost reporting.”

Balint at the GBTA, who is also Executive Director Global Commercial Services for Radius Travel, cites budgeting as a major issue, especially with costs increasing.

“It’s a challenge to submit a final budget and then accurately measure the value of team travel,” she says. “It’s so subjective and can have multiple measurements, such as staff retention, staff morale, improved collaboration, sales or processes. For travel managers, I would advise aligning metrics with the overall goal or objective of the meeting, trying to introduce tangible measurements.”

Balint also cites further complexities. “Attendees all have differing needs and expectations around travel. DE&I factors need to be considered, such as accessibility, cultural sensitivity, neurodiversity and dietary requirements to ensure inclusivity.”

Hollie Brooks, Executive Assistant SilverDoor Apartments, warns of other factors that organisers need to consider.

“Typically team travel includes larger numbers of travellers, often with multiple nationalities, which can mean itineraries and programmes are significantly more complex, made all the more so because of different passports, visa requirements and the need to arrange travel and research options and availability from multiple locations and various modes of transport,” says Brooks.

“It’s vital that you communicate at an individual as well as a team level, epecially as the itineraries, while not necessarily more complex, are still needed for multiple people so you need to make sure that everyone has all of the information they need. Key to this is setting deadlines you wouldn’t necessarily set for solo travellers. Ensure you can supply the right information at a team level at various stages of the trip, for example passport information for flights or hotels to enable check-in and allocation of room lists.”

More top tips for team travel

Start with your ‘why?’. From a strategic point of view, what are you trying to achieve by bringing internal meetings into your portfolio? Talk to people in your network who are already doing this successfully. Engage with legacy and new suppliers in the marketplace and experts, who can give you independent advice.

Meredith Smith, Principal Consultant, Festive Road

For travel managers who have a transient hotel programme I would advise on renegotiating this to extend the individual rates for groups so the rates are honoured, alongside increased flexibility in their cancellation terms.

Leanne Fowler, Director of Account Management, Agiito

C-suite guests want a VIP experience, something that hasn’t been done before, and their support teams want to be in front of everything, so communication is key. Even if there’s nothing to report, they need to know that communication channels are there.

Kirsty Tod, General Manager Events EMEA, Reed & Mackay