The Old Normal

Welcome to, a new online source of news and information for the meetings and events industry. Some of you may remember me as the former editor-in-chief of both Successful Meetings and Incentive magazines. This column, From My Inbox, will be a reflection the news and press releases that regularly fill my various feeds inside and outside of the industry.

In this moment in time, my inbox is filled with many reports of the effect climate change, supply chain issues, and health concerns are having on the meetings and events industry. Sprinkled through these reports is the phrase, “the new normal.” I’ve never liked that term. I’ve always found it to be a trite cliche to describe how the industry responds to a paradigm shift. But in this case I think it may also be inaccurate. This could actually be a return to “the old normal.” 

When I first began covering meetings and events in 1989, I would often interview industry veterans of that era who would sometimes talk about their experiences of 30 to 40 years earlier. What I learned from them about 35 years ago is that our current concept of what a travel experience should be is only about 65 years old. It began when regular intercontinental jet air service began in 1958 and it suddenly became possible to efficiently move large groups of people thousands of miles away. Before then, traveling any significant distance was an arduous experience that took more than a single day. In fact, the norm was for it to take a number of days and in many cases more than a week.

That’s why most etymologists agree that the term “travel” originates from the Old French word travail, which means ‘work.’ According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of the word travel was in the 14th century. It also states that the word comes from Middle English travailen or travelen (which means to torment, labor, strive, journey) and earlier from Old French travailler (which means to work strenuously, toil).

In English, people still sometimes use the word travail, which means struggle. According to Simon Winchester in his book, The Best Travelers’ Tales (2004), the words travel and travail share an even more ancient root: a Roman instrument of torture called the tripalium (in Latin it means “three stakes,” as in to impale). This is what travel was for most of human existence.

We have had the amazing privilege to live in a brief window of time where technology and relatively stable global weather patterns combined to make it possible for travel to become pleasurable, even aspirational. During that period, meetings and incentives exploded into the billion dollar industries they are today. Right now, dwindling natural resources, global health issues, and a dramatic change in worldwide weather patterns are beginning to reintroduce travail into travel. It doesn’t mean that moving large numbers of people long distances in a single day is going to go away. Far from it. It just means that doing that is going to become a lot more difficult and things are going to go wrong a lot more often. That means adding a lot more due diligence in the planning process to have a more strategic approach for balancing live and virtual attendance and implementing more robust emergency response protocols. It might also mean a lot more meetings closer to home which means having more in depth information on what first, second, and even third tier cities have to offer when it comes to creating exciting meeting and event experiences. One of our goals moving forward will be to become a go-to source for that kind of information in case of this current “old normal” sticks around long enough to become just, “normal.”

Any thoughts, opinions, or news? Please share them with me at

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