Despite bitter disappointment, positive sentiment prevails going into 2022

Despite the massive disappointment that the local travel industry has recently had to bear, global sentiment around business travel, according to some reports remains quite positive as we enter 2022. It is hard for us here in the front line of a new variant, who had to bear the brunt of the world’s cruel isolation, to remain positive as the local consequences of such a ban have been massively costly and more far-reaching than some realise.

An example of this is that I was to end my writing for last year on a truly positive note announcing that I was about to embark on a pre-cruise trip on a 5-star cruise liner that was coming to sail, based out of Cape Town around our South Africa coast for 3 months. It was a massive coup for South Africans and presented a very expensive but all-inclusive offering that was truly a once in a lifetime experience for us. We, as premier travel management professionals, were to be sending invites out to travel industry professionals and valued clients to experience it for themselves. Now it transpires that not only was this trip shelved but over 30 cruise liners have cancelled trips to our shores over the next 3 months! 

Whilst we were very relieved that South Africa and our neighbours were removed from the UK’s red-list as of 4 am 15 December, it came at too late notice to get many of the bookings re-instated from the UK as air availability was limited after the airlines had to significantly reduce their capacity in early December. Other markets did follow, but we had to face the reality that we lost a good portion of what would have been the festive season’s tourist boom. 

Fortunately, our beautiful country and Southern Africa continues to hold much appeal for our inbound tourists and we are blessed that many of our clients postponed last years’ festive season travel to later this year. Similarly, outbound business trips have largely been postponed to the latter part of January and many outbound leisure holidays have been kicked down the line too. I relate this to you only to show that as South Africans, and particularly as a travel industry it has been very difficult to maintain our half glass full attitude, but I know we will and I still want to start the year on a positive note by relating some international sentiment around travel for this year that, although we might not experience it until a little later, is very positive.

What is happening in my businesses is echoed in a Skift publication, “The state of Corporate travel and expense 2022” brochure. 

Positive business travel sentiment

According to the report published in December, “Globally, about 75 percent of business travellers expect to travel the same as or more than they did pre-pandemic. In the US, nearly 80 per cent of business travellers plan to book travel in the next three months.” There is also very positive sentiment about a shift in business travel expenditure which will include rewards for astute travel decisions. I believe that TMCs now need to develop global programs to drive this behaviour and I truly feel that travellers need to make travel decisions based on sustainable initiatives. We must make business travel more meaningful and do fewer trips that accomplish more in one trip. Companies need to engage those people with suggestions for combining in-person travel with virtual interactions and choose the right platforms when, for example, planning a conference or event. 

Events are coming back – both in-person and hybrid

On this note, events, according to the report are on the comeback with a surge of in-person and hybrid events. Some major companies are now reporting only 20 percent below 2019 figures. I can vouch for this in terms of South African business travel too. In-person meetings and events are now having a huge surge as people still want that human connection but have gotten used to cost savings and the further reach of hybrid events utilising virtual technology. The answer is to find the sweet spot between supporting sustainability and the need for personal contact. I think we South Africans have to accept that, at least for the time being, international events going forward will have to be virtual or hybrid as factors like different vaccines and blacklisted countries etc. are generally leading to around 75 percent in person and 25 percent active online attendee ratios.

Some airlines fly higher too

Another observation of the report is that in the USA anyway, even some airlines have a positive outlook for 2022. A Delta Air Lines survey, of its corporate accounts, says the report, revealed that “more than one-third (36 percent) of the carrier’s large corporate customers expect to fully return to pre-pandemic volume no later than sometime in 2022”. Obviously, it will be some time before South African airlines, or those travelling to and from our airspace, will be able to have the same positive sentiment, but hope springs eternal, so watch this space.

This too shall pass

I believe these reports, the general sentiment and in particular the optimism of the airlines may be ambitious, as regardless of a change in the attitudes of many of the public to be vaccinated there are still many more holding out against it. It is good to see though that this new variant has had far less impact than initially anticipated and it is always good to put a message out to all parties, business travellers and travel industry role players alike, that is positive and forward-thinking. 

An ancient saying, so old that it has not been determined from whence it came, but which continues to hold true through all the ages is, “this too shall pass”. It is through that belief that we South African’s continue to fight the good fight and we will embrace 2022, even if a little defeated by recent and current events, with hope, belief in our future as a major role player in international travel, and an absolute determination to defy the odds so that when this too has passed and we are still a great force in travel, we will be proudly able to utter the great words of the more recent statesman Sir Winston Churchill who said, “this was our finest hour!”

Thank you to all who continued to support us in 2021, through thick and thin – may you all have a blessed 2022.

LIDIA FOLLI

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

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