Demonstrating how people can have safe, productive face-to-face meetings again, American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) recently teamed up with American Airlines and Hyatt Hotels to stage a three-day hybrid event – to which more than half of attendees showed up in person.

Approximately 40 people from across the United States traveled to meet in American Airlines’ new headquarters, Skyview 8, in Fort Worth, Texas, and in Thompson Dallas, one of Hyatt’s luxury brands. For many of them, this was their first business trip in well over a year. Also in attendance were about 30 virtual participants logging in from London, Paris, Amsterdam, Singapore, and other cities worldwide.

Grew due to popular demand

Initially, the event was planned as a small internal meeting for our Global Travel Program Management team, a practice within GBT’s Global Business Consulting (GBC). Because there was so much excitement from other internal teams and our suppliers, the scope expanded into a GBT-wide event with participation from high-level leaders, including American Airlines’ President Robert Isom and Chief Customer Officer Alison Taylor.

Our primary objective of the event was to demonstrate to clients how we can safely resume business travel and meetings in our current environment.

“If we want our customers to get back on the road, we need to show them we are confident in doing the same as well,” explained Christina Gambini, regional vice president of global sales with Hyatt.

Various stakeholders got involved with the logistics. GBT’s American Express Meetings & Events (M&E) spearheaded the meeting planning and execution, purposefully designing an experience that would stimulate meaningful interaction between live and virtual attendees so everyone could feel included. GBC developed an agenda that paired our consulting specialists in air, hotel, sustainability, etc., with peers on the suppliers’ side for collaborative presentations.

We also had a philanthropic component to kick off the event: During the gala dinner on the first night, American Airlines, Hyatt Hotels, and GBT collectively presented a $10,000 charitable donation to ECPAT, a worldwide network of organizations working to end sexual exploitation and trafficking of children.

Creating a safe travel/meeting experience

Attendees had nothing but positive things to say about their flight with American Airlines and stay in Thompson Dallas. Both suppliers went above and beyond to make sure cleanliness promises and safety measures were met, building confidence in the travel experience.

“We worked very closely with American Airlines, Hyatt, and our internal teams to make sure all safety protocols were being followed and that all attendees – both those appearing in person and virtually – felt engaged and excited to be at this hybrid event,” said Max Lederman, director of GBC and lead organizer of the event.

“We also needed to stay flexible and on top of the travel restrictions and guidelines,” Lederman said. “Policies were changing across states and suppliers, so we needed to make sure we kept up with the most current changes around masking and safety protocols.”

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“Everything was well thought out,” commented Diego Panella, director of strategy and business development with GBT. “There was signage everywhere, people social distancing, people wearing masks in the common areas, hand sanitizer stations.”

With all the safety measures in place, Andrew Wimpenny, a principal with GBC, commented: “I’m probably safer doing something like this than I would be at home going to the supermarket.”

People are ready to get out there

Initially, Lederman was concerned people would have anxieties about traveling in a COVID environment and may not want to come, but he was proven wrong.

“We ended up having to turn down over a dozen people because spots filled up really quickly,” he said. “As more people get vaccinated, it is boosting confidence levels and influencing people’s decision-making to go back on the road.”

Signs of recovery also were seen in American Airlines’ recently reopened headquarters, Skyview 8, where employees are now back to work in droves.

“The thing that struck me was the sheer number of people,” said Zane Bohrer, vice president, general manager of GBT’s global client group. “It’s a confidence booster for me, someone that’s in the travel industry, to be able to see the levels of activity, to be able to see the level of comfort for those that are in the building. They’re all very confident being here.”

Those visiting the facility for the first time enjoyed taking in the stunning architectural features of Skyview 8, which boasts special aviation-themed touches throughout, including a 50-foot ceiling that resembles a jet turbine. It’s an experience that can only be appreciated in person.

That’s actually a takeaway most walked away with: Amid the electric energy in the room as old colleagues reunited and others met face-to-face for the first time, attendees rediscovered that business encounters are best enjoyed in person, bringing a human element to the dynamic.

As Linda McNairy, vice president of Americas of M&E, said: “As wonderful as virtual and hybrid meetings are in terms of being able to bring groups together, there’s absolutely nothing like the ability to be face-to-face – to sit at a table together, to exchange ideas, to have side conversations, to not be thinking about looking in the camera and actually be together to experience true contact.”

To see for yourself how excited attendees were to be meeting in person again, check out this video from the event that our partner American Airlines produced.

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