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26 JULY 2021

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Article from BTNews 26 JULY 2021

COMMENT: The End of Business Travel?

# When BTN was first established back in the 1980s our title was Air & Business Travel News (ABTN) but as the main revenue earner for airlines developed coming into the 21st century we dropped the ‘Air’.  Business travel grew and the front end of commercial aircraft evolved as the money maker for long-distance flying. 

Business Travel News, as it is today, is still a mixture of mainly air travel, rail, lodgings, and with a sprinkling of leisure news.

Business travel is said to represent 80% of airline revenues, and at the top end a substantial amount of hotel business.  All of course in pre-pandemic times.

Worldwide commerce continues in spite of lacking personal contact.  The quick trip to New York, or even Hong Kong, to sign or discuss a contract seems to be something from the past.  We are now living in a “Zoom Age”.  Tax-free Points are not being accrued and in any event airlines are now more reluctant to offer what are in effect discounts and a watering down of revenue.  "Points control" is paramount. Rush in quick with your booking as soon as a flight opens up.

Looking into a crystal ball what is the future for business travel?

Physical trade fairs disappeared in 2020 due to Covid-19.  Some are beginning to return and are the life blood of the industries they represent.  Every developer wants to show his new product to a real audience.  The toy fairs, the various international design and furniture shows, technology gatherings.  They all have their place.  Likewise ‘Aircraft Interiors’ and of course the Farnborough, Paris and regional air shows and Airport Expo.   And of course ITB Berlin, World Travel Market and other smaller international gatherings of that ilk.  

But what of pure industry shows/exhibitions, more of a social get together, with high level discussion of the type that can easily be held via video link? Do they have a future?

For events that do not promote an actual product, life is going to be more difficult.  Typically will the TMCs (travel management companies) and their suppliers see any future in gatherings that can achieve just as much via Zoom at a lot less expense?  

On the plus side what is the value of networking?  Impossible to assess but introductions are made at functions, dinners and receptions, impossible via Zoom.  Old friends reconnected. And a shortcut to invited ministers and chief executives impossible to normally reach with their Praetorian Guards.

As for air travel, BTN believes that the cabin balance between C and Y travellers will not fundamentally change.  

Once the worldwide pandemic is over, or at least contained, people will still want to go on holiday and see the globe.

The Brits require sunshine and those from overseas will want to see London for real, and what the rest of the United Kingdom has to offer.  Families worldwide will need to meet up again.  

And for those who can afford it the demand for Business Class and speedy, less cluttered airport progress will grow.  The use of exclusive lounges is bound to increase.
 
BTN has a suggestion.  As with all long-haul airlines British Airways is struggling.  It needs to be different and retain its prestige. The now limited First Class ought to be renamed Concorde Class.  The lounges exist (with a model Concorde in T5).  For some people it will be a status symbol.  “I’ve just arrived from London via British Airways on an A380 in Concorde Class” might be a nice way to start a New York meeting or join a celebrity event!  It's a 'cost nothing' marketing move. A unique class that nobody else can offer.

Air travel is far from doomed but is undoubtedly changing.  It might even be for the better.

The End for Business Travel?

No.

But BTN might have to be rebranded “Air & Business Travel News!"

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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum


John Davidson, France

As a retiree, my air travel is vastly different from what it was in my working days, when a long-haul flight every month was more or less the pattern. My experience was that C, J and F were always totally worth the expense, although less so J which in any case isn't much use. Rightly so, though, AF -- which has made me a lifetime Platinum member but which I won't fly any more -- for some reason was lagging. What's great now for Paris Orly-EWR travel is La Compagnie, an all-biz-class experience, as once was a BA subsidiary whose name now escapes me. ORY was a very good experience, with check-in, lounge and gate all located in easy proximity. Maybe "Open Skies" was the all-biz airline that closed? It's a relief not to be flying so much, if at all. Give me a lovely cruise on the Seine (the one I took was absolutely wonderful, one week, all first class). Trains aren't great but the train ride doesn't last long in a TGV. If only Carlson Wagons-Lit came back with their overnight service between Paris and Nice. Boy, was that a great experience, even if it was two to a cabin. Probably daytime would be even better. Speaking of which, the train leaving Aswan at noontime, arriving in Cairo the next morning at 7 am, is great. They called it the "German" or "yellow" train. It was several years ago, but the windows in the bar car in particular gave you spectacular views of Upper Egypt. Never take a plane on that connection.


Chris Pocock, UK, Uxbridge

Regarding conferences, it will be interesting to see if "hybrid" versions take off eg veal and virtual combined. Organisers will have to weigh the technical and revenue implications.


Gillian Short, London

Only time will tell how the TMCís are going to market themselves in the future. If we get a few months without any scares things will settle down. What sort of response will the Business Travel Show get in late September at the out of the way and massive Excel? The ABTA London convention in October, more of a gathering, should be OK.


Jim Jones, Manchester

I do think the editor is being very pessimistic. What about conferences and the like? I gather one cruise company, with initiative, and having lots of room, is hosting a client company gathering for a few days. If it works others will copy?


Joan Clarke, Manchester

British Airways does need a spark to set it going at the present time, and perhaps Concorde Class is the answer. Air France could do the same, but I donít think so!


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