Business Travel

How to Safely Host In-Person Corporate Meetings

Andavo Meetings & Incentives (AMI) is a division of Christopherson Business Travel. Their experienced team offers full-service meeting and event planning and corporate incentive trip planning. They also provide expertise on individual event components such as sourcing or contract negotiations. We are pleased to introduce them as our guest writer today, sharing tips for planning and hosting safe corporate meetings and events.

Corporate Meeting Safety and Guidelines

Video conference fatigue has certainly kicked in for many organizations and their team members. While virtual events have been a great way to stay connected during this time, it’s clear that we all want to get back to connecting in person. One question we regularly receive is: “when can we host in-person corporate events again while being COVID-safe?” While there’s no magical date we can give, we know that nothing replaces the value of an in-person meeting.

Once your organization feels comfortable with meeting and are able to gather for an in-person corporate event, what do you do? How do you plan a safe meeting? Although we may not be able to tell you the “when,” we can certainly help you with the “how.” Understanding the corporate event industry in this new world is more important than ever so that attendees feel safe, excited, and protected.

Here are six important things to consider when planning and hosting a safe, in-person corporate meeting or event:

1. Communication

Attendees will need to feel comfortable with traveling and meeting again, so start by communicating why your company is planning this in-person event and the significance of being together. Keep in mind that some attendees may not feel comfortable traveling or gathering yet, so provide communication about other participation options available to them. Such options could be:

  • a hybrid event that includes a virtual component
  • on-demand recordings
  • another in-person meeting at a later time.

Whatever options you provide, it’s important to keep your attendees informed about every step you and your company are taking to keep them safe and get them excited about seeing people. Keep in mind that the “COVID climate” changes rapidly and with vaccines now being rolled out, the discomfort of today may not be an issue by your event date.

2. Destination and Venue Selection

When determining the location or destination, be sure to learn the government guidelines that are in place for the location you’re considering. For example, is there a capacity limit on the number of people that can meet in one room? However, keep in mind that if you are you sourcing for a year or more into the future, such requirements will likely change.

If you decide a particular destination is right for your group in the current environment, how do you find the right hotel or venue to host the event? There are more front-end considerations now than ever before, such as how hotels handle safety protocols and guest communication. Every brand, hotel, and property have a different set of procedures. You may find sneeze guards at the front desk of one hotel, while another may require a completely virtual check-in through their app. All these details depend on the destination, hotel, brand, technology, and amount of money that has been invested in the hotel.

3. Transportation

Distance from the airport to the venue or hotel has always been a consideration in corporate event planning, but now, more forethought is being given to how attendees will get to/from the airport while also being COVID-safe. Can Uber or Lyft be used? What about a group transfer or private rental cars?

It’s important to evaluate your transportation selection in advance to work through any potential challenges and determine additional measures that may help attendees feel safer. It’s going to take some time before group transportation looks like group transportation as we previously knew it.

If you’re scheduling group transfers, make sure you know how many attendees will be in each vehicle as this will impact your budget. You should also know and communicate the transportation company’s health and safety protocols, i.e. Are vehicles cleaned between transfers? Are rows or seats blocked off on larger vehicles for social distancing? Are masks and sanitizer available for anyone entering or departing the bus?

Airports can be another area of concern. While airlines have done a great job communicating their safety measures, there’s not been as much communication about or from airports. Communicating to your attendees what they can expect at airports and providing information on additional ways to be safe while in transit are a great way to minimize concerns. Such recommendations include minimizing the amount of time spent in airports (i.e. not arriving too early), wiping down a seat before sitting in the waiting area, and bringing your own refreshments, sanitizer, and wipes to use along the way.

4. Hotel/Venue Public Spaces

Once you select your hotel or venue, be sure to get a list or outline of their safety measures as they currently stand, as well as another copy seven days prior to your arrival, in case those protocols have changed. Review upon receipt so that you have time to request any enhancements to those health and safety measures.

Some basic hotel/venue features and practices to look for are:

  • touchless options where possible (hotel check-in, doorways, bathroom sinks, soap, housekeeping upon request, etc.)
  • obvious in-room changes (empty honor bar, sanitized TV remotes, etc.)
  • doing visible and regular sanitizing of public areas.

Communicate all hotel/venue safety protocols to attendees in advance.

5. Meetings and Group Meals

While bringing people together is incredibly valuable and productive, you don’t want it to be a situation for concern. The following important points should be considered prior to signing any hotel contract:

  • Does the venue have proper ventilation and the appropriate amount of space to be socially distanced based on current local guidelines?
  • Does the space have windows and doors that open for air flow?
  • Does the meeting space offer multiple access points to allow for one way in and one way out?
  • Can you host your food and beverage functions outside with an indoor back-up for inclement weather?

Understanding the venue’s safety protocols for food & beverage are important because self-service stations, buffets, and meals in general will all look different. Grab-and-go options for food will be commonplace, so understanding how the catering team can make that exciting and high-quality is important to know in advance. You want your business meetings to be successful while being COVID-safe.

6. Testing & CDC Guidelines 

COVID testing of attendees may alleviate concerns, but determining when and how often can be challenging. Several new technologies have been launched (with more options coming soon) to make this readily available and affordable for all. These testing options can be self-administered or facilitated by a professional on site. There are also options for contact tracing and temperature checks.

CDC guidelines are always changing so it’s best to simply be prepared for change. Dedicating on-site travel staff to act as “Pandemic Compliance Advisors” can provide comfort and assurance that your meeting is maintaining current guidelines and protecting HIPAA laws.

Having a solid plan for what you’ll do if someone tests positive is critical to the overall success of your meeting. There are many variables, obstacles and financial obligations that should be considered for such a situation. Whatever plan you outline, it is essential that those details be communicated to attendees in advance so they know what to expect.

Moving Forward

No one knows for sure what 2021 and beyond will bring, but we do feel we’re coming out of the “COVID tunnel” and we are optimistic about returning to in-person meetings. Now is definitely the time to start planning. With so many new considerations and requirements for corporate meetings and events, doing comprehensive due-diligence upfront and over-communicating to attendees is crucial.

AMI can help you successfully and easily navigate that process. Contact us today for more information and watch the video for a closer look at AMI’s corporate event planning expertise:

Business and Leadership Business Travel Executive Q and A

Executive Q&A: Christopherson’s CEO Reflects on the Past, Present, & Future

As we begin a New Year, we took the opportunity to sit down with our CEO, Mike Cameron, to reflect on the challenges of 2020, learn how Christopherson is currently doing, and get his take on what he sees for the future.


Mike Cameron, CEO of Christopherson Business Travel

Q: Mike, as you reflect on the last year, what are your thoughts about what we’ve collectively been through? 

A: Early on I used a metaphor with our team that enduring COVID-19 would be like driving through the long tunnels in Switzerland where there is no obvious end in sight but you have confidence that that part of the journey is temporary and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been just as confident there will be light at the end of this tunnel. The vaccines have definitely created some visible light.

When the pandemic hit, we had to be decisive, conservative, and compassionate. We immediately made a pivot from our growth strategy to a protection strategy–one that protected our people, our clients, and our customer experience–while also protecting our cash.

Although it has been painful, I’ve had a calm feeling during the past ten months that our strategy was solid, our liquidity was adequate, and we were going to come out stronger and better than before the pandemic began. Fortunately, we are still ahead of the plan.

Q: What did you find to be the most difficult aspects of the year? 

A: As a family owned company,?we had?to reach deep into our souls?to?accept the reality of what was happening?and?find?solutions that would be as compassionate?as possible,?but?also?realistic to ensure that the company would survive. My wife and I had to make?the most difficult?decisions we’ve made?in our 30 years of owning the business. It was gut-wrenching to ask our team members to embrace sacrifices that would impact their personal lives in dramatic ways.

We took decisive action and made the necessary furloughs, layoffs, and pay cuts all at once in that first week as the pandemic wreaked havoc in the U.S. We got some bad press for doing so, but we have since been able avoid making any more significant personnel changes relating to the economic pressures of COVID-19.

Decisive action early on also gave us the luxury of steadily improving things over the last 11 months. It allowed us to avoid the alternative of asking our employees to face continual rounds of layoffs or “death by a thousand cuts.” I believe this helped make our team’s morale more positive, and thankfully, we still have more than 50% of our team intact even though our bookings are less than 25% of 2019’s.

Q: How do the challenges 2020 brought compare to previous challenges Christopherson and the travel industry have faced?? 

A: Previous challenges, including the airline commission cuts that began in 1995, the launch of Expedia (the first major online travel competitor) in 1996, the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and the financial collapse in 2008 were nothing compared to last year. We were able to adapt and navigate the other four major challenges with relative ease. In 30 years we never had a non-profitable year or even a half-year until 2020.

That said, we’re prepared to lose money, or as I like to call it, “make investments,” in 2020 and 2021. We hope to be profitable again in Q4 of 2021 and for sure by 2022. In either case, we’re prepared to make whatever investments are necessary.

Q: Did anything positive come out of 2020 for Christopherson? 

A: There has been so much positive that came out of our most difficult year ever. We started with a focus on managing the travel crisis, taking care of our people, and stabilizing the business. As soon as we felt confident that we had a solid plan for long-term viability, we started investing in strategies to be leaner, smarter, and better.

To be leaner, we created a smaller footprint with less office overhead. To be smarter, we eliminated costs that didn’t create value and replaced some of the technology we previously built with best-in-class, third-party alternatives. To be better, we began reinventing a better digital and human customer experience.

Q: How does Christopherson stand today as a company? 

A: We now have more people working on our team than we had after the initial layoffs and furloughs. We’ve called some team members back, and we’ve also recruited from outside for the digital reinvention in which we’re investing. We still have the liquidity to weather the rest of the storm.

Q: What do you think are the greatest impacts the pandemic had on the travel industry? 

A: The most significant by far is the human cost. The layoffs, furloughs, and compensation reductions have impacted tens of millions of people in what was previously a fairly stable, robust industry. There are countries and even U.S. states where travel and tourism was their leading economic driver. It has been devastating for everyone.

Q: What are your goals for Christopherson in the coming year and beyond? 

A: Two weeks before the pandemic began, we had just announced a billion-dollar booking/sales goal. Frankly, it didn’t seem like much of a stretch, based on our 30-year trajectory. What a difference two weeks makes! We know we will be back on track soon to reach that goal. We’ve had bit of a detour, but our journey forward will be more secure with us being leaner, smarter, and better.

Q: In your opinion, what should companies do to position themselves for success in 2021? 

A: At a high level, don’t forget about the people that helped you become successful and don’t forget about the strategies that made you successful. While many of the cost cuts everyone made were necessary to survive the crisis, don’t assume that they can all be permanent. Some will be because we had to become smarter.

To that point, even travel cuts, which were made for safety reasons and did provide budget-cut benefits, will not likely all be permanent. While we probably won’t see many people traveling for a one-hour internal meeting because Zoom is a much better alternative, when it comes to winning new business, organizations will quickly see the ROI on travel when a competitor does their presentation in person and you do yours on Zoom. We may also find that where some organizations bring their teams together for collaboration, engagement, or performance rewards, and others don’t, Zoom may be a losing strategy when trying to outpace competitors. Ultimately, no one knows how much travel will be forever reduced.

Q: What new opportunities do you think the pandemic opened up? 

A: The pandemic accelerated digital adoption. It transformed business forever and created both the need and the opportunity for travel management companies, or any company really, to accelerate and transform their own digital and human customer experience in order to remain competitive.

Those who have the ability to meet that need will be more successful than others. Those who can find the right blend of both a digital and human customer experience service model will grow faster than others. We can no longer do business as usual.

Read more Executive Q&As here. 

Business Travel Travel Management Travel Tips

Hotel Sourcing Strategies for 2021 Business Travel

Twenty-twenty was an unprecedented year in the travel industry in many ways, one of the most surprising being what the Hotel Reservation Service (HRS) calls “the dawn of a buyer’s market” in the hotel industry.

Like all dawns, this one was preceded by darkness. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the hotel industry have been numerous, including:

  • overhauls to cleaning protocols;
  • implementation of social distancing and touchless options;
  • reducing and revamping food and beverage offerings and service;
  • revamping and limiting housekeeping services;
  • closing and reopening fitness centers, spas, and pools;
  • and, most importantly, numerous hotel closures, staff layoffs and furloughs, and impending bankruptcies.

In his annual trend analysis report, Bjorn Hanson, adjunct professor at NYU’s School of Professional Studies Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, says most hotel vendors are suddenly facing “the lowest occupancies in history (generally forecast to be 50 percent for the US for 2021) and the largest decrease in average daily rates in history (20 to 35 percent).”1

With health and safety protocols driving booming Zoom sales and other virtual meeting options like GoToMeeting, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams, the pandemic has impacted travel buyers and managers, too, as they struggle to forecast when, where, and how much their employees will travel in 2021.

“It’s a buyer’s market. This is a certainty that may be clouded by the reduced level of corporate demand today, but it is nevertheless true. With rates down, occupancy down, and too much supply, travel buyers have the power to ask for better terms with hotels, which are desperate for volumes,” says TRIPBAM. “Yet, with the majority of corporates still halting or significantly holding back on business travel, delivering volume or providing accurate projections of expected volume for when travel resumes becomes difficult.”

In spite of these uncertainties, there are some concrete steps travel managers can take to secure better hotel rates in 2021.

1. Evaluate Changing Business Travel Patterns

If your employees frequently travel between your branch offices or to and from specific project sites, your 2021 hotel offerings may look similar to your 2020 or 2019 program’s.

However, Account Manager Carol Del Giudice suggests that most business travel patterns will be significantly different post-pandemic. “Companies that shut down physical offices now have virtual ones, so travel patterns are changing. They are meeting clients in neutral places because of those office closures.” And “neutral places” often means areas with hotels outside of negotiated contracts, so many travel managers should shift lodging options accordingly.

The question is whether you should respond to the shift by increasing or decreasing the number of hotels in your program, or both.

2. Assess Your Corporate Hotel Needs

Consider revising the number of properties/vendors in your hotel program if:

  • You are no longer traveling to a particular area as a result of office closures (yours or your client’s), a change from in-person to virtual meetings, a change in project location, border closures, etc.
  • You need to concentrate room nights at fewer properties to negotiate better rates
  • Your vendor has permanently closed a preferred property
  • You are willing to adjust your hotel program, including changing the number of properties and renegotiating rates, as the pandemic evolves and your travel needs change
  • Your vendor contacts have changed and you are no longer satisfied with the service
  • Your vendor is refusing to negotiate lower rates for 2021
  • Your employee duty-of-care policy requires properties with cleanliness/safety certification or accreditation
  • Your travelers have provided negative feedback regarding a vendor’s health and safety measures
  • You have new projects or offices requiring more convenient lodging locations
  • You can negotiate lower rates or different types of rates to decrease your hotel spend

3. Understand Your Rate Choices

Static rates—a flat rate implemented for an agreed-upon term but with seasonal fluctuations and date exceptions—are the most common type of negotiated rate. In addition to being available only 60–85 percent of the time, static rates may be a vestige of another era in travel. But they could still have a place in your travel program. As part of a dual-rate strategy, static rates can serve as a rate cap that controls travel spend when the market fluctuates.

For example, the Company Dime reported that TRIPBAM’s static rates were an average 3 percent higher than market rates in September 2020. That’s why TRIPBAM CEO Steve Reynolds suggests treating your negotiated static rate as a rate cap.

“In January, travel buyers were getting a 25–30 percent discount off market rates; now they’re getting 2 percent, or maybe even [sic] negative discount, because market rates have dropped 35 percent on average,” said Reynolds.

Dynamic rates—normally a percentage off the best available rate (BAR) that is negotiated with individual properties—are applicable 100 percent of the time. There are no room-type restrictions, blackout dates, or seasonal fluctuations. And when the market is difficult to predict, a dynamic rate lets travel managers take advantage of bargain basement room prices.

“We recommend a shift to dynamic rates,” said Client Consulting Services Manager Dallas Stewart. The discount won’t always be as high, but you’re still getting a better rate than BAR on blackout dates. It’s pretty standard for dynamic rates to be 10–15% off BAR.”

Chainwide rates—a flat percentage off BAR that is applicable to all hotels within a specific chain—generally don’t include amenities or provide last room availability. According to Stewart, chainwide discounts are most applicable to high-volume programs with an annual spend of $250,000 or more within the same chain family. They are also advantageous when your travelers stay at one hotel brand in various locations and may be more relevant in a pandemic market that emphasizes consistent health and safety measures above cost.

Amanda Hyun, Director of Sales and Marketing for Cambria Hotel Napa Valley, says that travel buyers’ number one concern is currently health and safety and notes that in this market it is “crucial now more than ever to outline the different cleanliness standards.”

4. Consider Using a Blend of Rate Types

As mentioned earlier, a dual-rate strategy may provide the best cost-control option in 2021. Implementation and Account Support Manager Adelina Litter suggests that travel buyers negotiate static and dynamic rates for 2021 to take advantage of the lowest rates throughout the year.

In September 2020, BCD Travel surveyed travel buyers to ascertain trends in rate sourcing. As shown in the graphic below, a significant majority—82%—said they would use a mixture of static and dynamic hotel rates in their 2021 travel programs.

“Creating just the right mix of rate types and amenities included in the negotiated rate process has always been a balancing act, even for the most seasoned sourcing professionals,” said Business Travel News in a recent white paper. “But in the next year or two, as the impact of the pandemic unfolds, the pressure to mix savings with safety, and flexibility with perks, will require even more finesse. Luckily, the vast majority of organizations are already starting from a good place in their programs—they just need to keep evolving in changeable times.”

According to Del Giudice, hotels are keeping lines of communication open to help travel managers understand these changes.

“Most hotels are reaching out to clients with an existing program. They are lowering rates and trying to get travelers back into their hotels. The onus is on the hotelier to make stays more appealing to the traveler, so they are offering more points, more amenities, and lower rates,” she said.

Hyun agrees that price is always near the top of travel buyer’s want lists. “One way we are combatting this for those who are on a static rate program is to offer the lowest rate guarantee at time of booking. Many of the national accounts are on this program now as it will default to the lowest rate available when searching on booking platforms and the GDS.”

5. Reconsider the Hotel RFP

With decreases in staff and fewer operating hotels, many relationships essential to the RFP process have dissolved. So travel managers must reach out to unfamiliar contacts and, in some cases, contacts in different positions within the company, to complete the RFP process.

“Travel managers are finding that some of their contacts are on furlough or have been let go. This makes it even harder to know who to reach out to and find a contact that’s familiar with them and their program,” said Client Consulting Services Manager Adelina Littler.

Hyun estimated that only 33% of RFPs were released during the traditional season and that “many are waiting until Q1 to submit or do a roll over with rates.” Hyun sees more companies—about 60%—switching to a dynamic pricing model “with anywhere from 10–25% off BAR on net, non-commissionable rates.”

6. Use Your Data

Whatever rate strategies you implement, keeping a close eye on travel patterns and travel spend enables you to adjust your program as the pandemic situation evolves and better prepare for 2022 rate negotiations. Littler and Stewart advise travel managers to audit hotel rates using benchmark options in the Prime Analytics reporting tool available in AirPortal.

“Track your discounts through your Domo and Prime Analytics reporting tools. Look at year-over-year spend and savings by benchmark, as well as by preferred properties. Track the savings at least every six months in preparation to negotiate rates for 2022,” said Littler.

According to a BTNGROUP white paper, most travel buyers agree with Littler’s recommendation: more than 50% of them review their hotel rates two to four times annually.

7. Consult Your Account Manager

If you’re unsure how to pursue rates for your travel 2021 program, take advantage of the consultative services offered by your account manager.

“We can offer the best approaches and give clients guidance whether they want to negotiate new rates or even pursue a hotel RFP,” said Stewart. “While we suggest that clients skip the RFP this year, since many hotels don’t currently have the sales reps to manage the RFP process, we can give them access to an RFP tool if they prefer.”

Suggested Strategies and Best Practices

With so much fluctuation in the travel industry, it’s important to remain focused on your lodging goals, whether that’s sourcing safer hotels, improving traveler satisfaction, or getting lower rates—or a combination of those elements. Keep these strategies and best practices in mind as you tailor your hotel program for 2021:

  • Use dynamic rates or a mixture of rates.
  • Review hotel health and safety measures before you roll-over or negotiate new rates.
  • Remove from your program hotels that don’t have pandemic-related health and safety accreditations or prominently displayed health and safety measures on their websites.
  • Concentrate your room nights at fewer properties to obtain greater savings.
  • Review and audit rates often—at least twice annually.
  • Use a hotel RFP tool only if absolutely necessary.
  • Keep abreast of ongoing marketplace changes.
  • Use benchmarking to audit hotel rates.
  • Evaluate the need to improve hotel attachment rates.
  • Educate travelers regarding the increased safety and savings that come with booking compliance using preferred vendors.
  • Mandate use of preferred vendors and consider implementing a liability waiver if travelers book off-channel.
  • Be prepared for hotel satisfaction metrics to change as hotels respond to returning business travel—your program may determine whether you negotiate contracts for shorter or longer durations.
  • Be prepared to add hotels to and remove hotels from your program as needed.
  • Verify that required amenities are included in your negotiated rates so your travelers don’t incur additional charges.
  • Consider obtaining lower rates for extended stays that result in less frequent travel for your employees (e.g., office to project base trips).


1 Hanson, Bjorn, PhD. US Corporate and Contract Hotel Rate Negotiations for 2021 Forecast – Negotiating at a Time of Unprecedented Uncertainty. Trend Analysis Report. September 22, 2020.

Disclaimer: As business travel needs vary from corporation to corporation, changes in vendors are company-specific managerial decisions, not a result of Christopherson Business Travel publications.