Are We Ready to Travel Yet?

You know that saying about the weather? If you don't like it, wait 15 minutes and it will change? That pretty much sums up how we all feel about business travel in the post-Covid age. Optimistic one week, pessimistic the next. The president says we'll all be able to get vaccinated by May...optimism. The South African variant will create a new surge...pessimism. Infection rates are trending down...optimism. California cancels vaccines due to shortages...pessimism.

You know that saying about the weather? If you don’t like it, wait 15 minutes and it will change? That pretty much sums up how we all feel about business travel in the post-Covid age. Optimistic one week, pessimistic the next. The president says we’ll all be able to get vaccinated by May…optimism. The South African variant will create a new surge…pessimism. Infection rates are trending down…optimism. California cancels second vaccine appointments due to shortages…pessimism.

Pretend that you have an industry conference to host later this year and we can welcome you to our world. The day-to-day and week-to-week gyrations and pendulum swinging were making us crazy, so we decided to try a different form of insanity: we polled a group of Presentation Summit alumni in December and then again in March. We asked the same questions both times and only offered the March survey to those who participated in December, so all of the results would be from people who shared their feelings with us twice.

Exactly 200 alumni took our poll in December. Of those, 137 accepted our invitation to poll again in March. So this is the story of the thoughts and feelings of 137 Presentation Summit patrons and how they are feeling about traveling for business and maybe attending a conference like ours.

In one word…

If you were one of those 137, we started out asking you for one word to describe your disposition about attending an in-person event in 2021. We didn’t specify traveling to a destination or what type of event it was; you filled in all of that nuance yourselves. The difference that three months made was dramatic:

“Attending the conference depends upon my school and currently they have banned travel. So to attend, the ban has to be lifted and then my department chair has to approve the travel.”
— Cynthia in December

“I am so looking forward to the Summit. After a year of stagnating, I can’t wait to be challenged again and to be around amazing people.”
— Cynthia in March

It is particularly noteworthy to regard the words that are most prominent in one cloud and seek them out in the other. Note where Pessimism ranks in the March cloud or how Hopeful is portrayed in December. Also interesting to see that Hesitant and Need Vaccine are of identical value in both. The percentage of people who called themselves optimistic actually went down between December and March, but we were not about to split hairs and try to ferret the difference between optimistic and hopeful. We also noted that Excited carries just about the same weight in each cloud. If you were excited in December about the prospect of venturing out, you were going to be excited in March; and if you were not excited in December, three months did not appear to make any difference.

The story is clear here: in the space of those three months, you were generally feeling much better about our collective prospects of congregating in person.

Okay, so when…?

The next question was not so easy: what is your timeframe for travel? In December, you were nowhere close to being ready, citing mid- to late-2022 as a comfortable timeframe. On this point, your trend was quite clear, as the sweet spot of confidence about travel jumped two entire seasons, from Q2 2022 to Q4 2021.

“Fear of potentially spreading the virus will prevent me from traveling. Precautions (e.g., mask, hand washing, social distancing, temp checks) are not effective enough to convince me to travel.”
— Mike in December

“I really hope in-person happens and I will absolutely be there if the pandemic is over. I know a lot of people are ready to get the heck out of their homes.”
— Mike in March

What concerns you and how much?

We asked you to identify five areas of your life that have been impacted by Covid and then we asked you to rate those concerns. The five life qualities that emerged from your feedback, in the order in which you collectively ranked them:

  • Personal safety
  • Our nation’s economy
  • Public health system
  • Mental well-being
  • Job security

You cared less about the last two than you did the first three. In fact, mental well-being and job security were practically a constant, moving little between December and March. It was almost as if your concerns for those two were irrespective of the pandemic. Most notable was how they all trended downward:

“Reliable health and safety is top priority for live events. A well-managed virtual event is preferable to the questionable safety of a live event during C-19. I would hate to miss an in-person event in 2021, but safety is top of mind.”
— John in December

While the order of concern did not change between the five from December to March, you all made it clear that you were less concerned about each of them.

Vaccine is king

Our December survey was conducted on the eve of the Moderna vaccine rollout and that created a wave of enthusiasm. That wave rolled through the entire first quarter of the year, and come March, your feeling was unchanged: the vaccine means everything for the fate of conferences such as the Presentation Summit. We asked you for your most important factor in attending a conference, and on this point, you could not have been more unequivocal, both in December and in March:

“I don’t want to be taking risks until it’s truly safe to do so. So I hope for all our sakes that the vaccines hurry the F up!”
— Bethany in December

“I am opening up my circle to others who are vaccinated. A vaccination requirement would dramatically increase my odds of feeling comfortable enough to attend an in-person convention.”
— Mona in March

What might the Summit look like?

Not wanting to get too far out in front of our skis, we only asked two specific questions about how we might handle safety protocols at the Presentation Summit, but they were provocative questions. We posed them as statements to respond to — a straight up-or-down vote on whether you agreed or not:

“I do not want to attend the Summit if…

I have to wear a mask.”

“…I can’t hug my friends.”

These questions reflect our belief here at conference headquarters that it could be heartbreaking for some of our veteran patrons, upon seeing their close conference friends, to have to conceal their expressions or regard one another from a distance. You agreed with us on the mask question: most of you would prefer that we be at a point in pandemic recovery where the wearing of masks would not be required. And your sentiment grew stronger over time.

But you were not with us about physical contact; you would be willing to put up with a bit of distancing if it meant that you could all be at least in the same locale together.

Here is Sheila, after attending one in-person conference and then last year’s virtual one: “I’m on the fence about whether I’d want to attend an in-person conference if we still needed masks and social distancing. But if there were widespread agreement among health professionals that those measures were no longer necessary — I’d be there in a heartbeat.”

This from Kim, a seven-time patron: “It would just suck if we had to practice social distancing, wear facemasks, and splash sanitizer before and after every seminar. Yeah, it would be great to see everybody and have some physically closer interaction, but having drinks six feet away while donning and doffing my PS PPE would not be fun.”

And Jeri, who has more stars on her badge than one can count: “I’m optimistic I’ll be attending the Summit this year, and if still necessary, I’m willing to follow whatever protocols are needed, such as wearing a mask, social distancing, etc. It would be worth it to see my friends again.”

And so…?

We at Summit headquarters are tremendously grateful to those who participated in this survey and to everyone who has offered us their well wishes. And their sympathies — this stuff is stressful! From all of this good group think, there are a few elements of clarity:

JUST MAYBE: Most people are feeling better about in-person travel today than they were a few months ago, and in some cases just a few weeks ago. We note the following two statements from one of our presenters:

Feb 9: “The chances of holding this conference in person are zero.”
Mar 9: “That thing I said last month? Well, maybe you can forget that I said that.”

We are one outbreak or virulent strain away from everything being derailed, but absent that, the mood is a bit better than cautious optimism. It’s more like “yes, we can do this!”

NO MAYBE ON VIRTUAL: To the hundreds of you who attended our 2020 virtual Summit and have no hope or no plans to attend in person, hear this: there will definitely, certainly, and positively be a virtual conference on Sep 26-29. The only question is whether there will also be an in-person component, turning the conference into a hybrid affair. All of this speculation, analysis, angst, and stress is over the viability of the in-person part. There is no question about the virtual part. Is that clear enough??

VAX ON: Those who want to attend would feel most comfortable if the conference required proof of vaccination for all. If our current administration is correct that, come May 1, anyone who wants a vaccine can get one, this is a plausible scenario.

MASK OFF? It might be years until some people bid farewell to their face coverings, and some might never do so. But it remains our fervent hope that September brings conditions in which mask wearing can be optional. While hotel lobbies and restaurants might be different, in our ballrooms, where it’s just us, and we’re all vaccinated — wouldn’t it be nice to see faces…?

AND HUGS. We remain staunchly pro-touching. And we dream of a time in which we can restore order to our little corner of the universe. Maybe by late-September.

Registration is open for both flavors of the 2021 Summit and you can register at the conference website. The in-person event will be limited to 150 people at most, and possibly fewer. If an in-person conference is not viable, your registration will be converted to virtual and you will receive an immediate rebate of the difference in the two prices. Early pricing is in effect until May 1.

Complete details:

Share the Post:

Recent Posts

My “Last Hurrah”

Rick Altman Hosting the Presentation Summit has been the greatest joy of my professional life, and it is not a close call. Across 21 seasons, going on 22, it has

Read it

Are You Smarter Than a Kindergartener?

The story I told in 2018 was one of my favorites, because, first off, it was told to me by a good friend who teaches middle school, and second, because it was 100% true although you would never believe it.

Read it

Now that you have made it most of the way through this article, might you like to join our mailing list? We only send it out about once a month, it’s usually thought-provoking articles (occasionally thoughtless, so say our critics), and it’s never spammy.