EY revives the big-budget corporate shindig with Florida theme park trip

EY this week flew more than 2,000 staff and their companions to Florida for a shindig at a Universal Studios theme park, in a sign that big-budget corporate bonding events are coming back after the pandemic.

Pictures shared by the Big Four accounting firm’s newly promoted partners on social media showed them enjoying a fireworks display, a gala dinner at the Marriott Hotel and rollercoaster rides such as Escape from Gringotts, modelled on the goblin-run bank in Harry Potter.

EY’s global chair and chief executive, Carmine Di Sibio, was among the executives attending the two-day event, seven months after he said the 312,000-person firm would ask its people “to think harder about how much they need to fly” once pandemic travel restrictions were lifted to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

In an analysis of the future of business travel last May, EY predicted an end to large events in the short term, saying that 1,000-person get-togethers were likely to be split between multiple regional locations.

Reducing business travel, which accounts for 75 per cent of EY’s carbon output, is the first point in the firm’s plan to cut net emissions to zero in the next three years.

EY declined to confirm the estimated carbon footprint of the Orlando event but said it had been “modelled in our plans to be net zero by 2025”.

The event in Orlando was held for partners newly promoted in the last two years by EY in 150 countries, plus their companions. Before the pandemic, the jamboree was held annually in cities such as Shanghai, Singapore and Barcelona. This year’s event, where EY partners were pictured with characters from the Shrek and Minions movies, was bigger than usual because it included two partner “intakes” after the 2021 edition was postponed.

One EY insider said the induction for new partners was usually “a bit of a jolly for everyone”.

“They all get to tell themselves how wonderful they are and how their lifetime of work has paid off,” the person said.

Since the last gathering of new partners, EY has attracted regulatory scrutiny over its work as auditor of German payments company Wirecard and FTSE 100 hospital group NMC Health, both of which collapsed in fraud scandals. But annual revenues reached a record $40bn last year as demand for professional advisers boomed.

Pandemic restrictions led to speculation that business travel would be dented permanently as companies adapted to remote working and introduced plans to cut their contribution to climate change.

Boston Consulting Group’s London office has ditched luxury weekends where prospective recruits were flown to cities such as Florence and Lisbon to be wined and dined.

In an effort to reduce emissions, large consultancies such as KPMG, Deloitte and BCG have introduced online tools showing staff the CO2 impact of their travel plans before they book. Many businesses are avoiding international travel by hosting meetings online.

But EY defended the in-person gathering, saying: “Being together, establishing connections, and providing training is very important to maintaining our culture and giving our people an exceptional experience.” The event included training sessions, business updates and keynote speeches by the firm’s leaders and external speakers, it said.

“This event contributed to the continued return to ‘normalcy’ which is key to our global economic recovery and hundreds of external employees, including hotel and event staff, were brought back to work [at] this event,” it added.

The EY event comes as airlines are reporting a partial recovery in business travel, with American Airlines’ business bookings returning to two-thirds of 2019 levels.

“The act of doing business is a social function,” American’s then-chief executive Doug Parker told a conference last month, adding that business travellers would find new reasons to connect in person.

Additional reporting by Steff Chávez in Chicago

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