The return to permanent Business travel in the near future

I read an interesting article from the industry publication, “Skift” on what Travel CEOs and many of the associated travel organisations are predicting for the return of business travel in the near (or not so near) future. The predictions range from reasonably positive to blatantly negative and understandably they vary according to the specific area of the industry in which they are active. These opinions are mostly from American companies but most of them of course, have a global footprint.

What do the key travel role players say?

To name just a few of those interviewed, Skift reported that Accor CEO Sebastien Bazin predicted “I really believe that we permanently stand to lose about 20 or 25 per cent of that entire (international business travel) market.” United Airlines chief financial officer, Andrew Nocella, anticipated business travel demand would be 40 to 45 per cent off 2019 levels in the third quarter of 2021, and The Global Business Travel Association anticipates overall corporate business travel expenses could slip to $1.24 trillion in 2024, down from the $1.43 trillion peak seen in 2019. None are particularly positive but probably the most negative was from Microsoft Founder Bill Gates, the partial owner of the Four Seasons hotels and resorts, who said at the outset of the pandemic last year, “My prediction would be that over 50 per cent of business travel and over 30 per cent of days in the office will go away!”

What of South Africa?

As for my personal prediction of how things will play out in South Africa, even my usual positivity needs to be peppered with a little reality. I believe people are still risk-adverse but this risk-aversion as well as other factors relating to Covid-19 compliance are no longer the only factors that companies are taking into account. With global pressure on corporations to actively pursue sustainability initiatives, businesses seem to be looking at how sustainability metrics can come into play. There is a genuine drive to balance how we can manage travel with virtual meetings as well. These sustainability initiatives have been sparked by movements within Europe where, for example, people are doing a trip by train or motor vehicles instead of air – simply because it is greener.

TMCs role to the fore

I may sound like a stuck record sometimes but once again I believe this will mean that TMCs will play a much more important role. Clients now need advice not only on the myriad of COVID regulations and restrictions but on how to manage their travel to be more sustainable. They will ask questions as exacting as “What aircraft is affecting the environment more?” Especially for businesses with EU based   head offices – these kinds of objectives will need to be achieved. So, given what we are still facing and what I believe lies ahead I predict that only sometime in 2023 we will see the quantum of business travel return to 2019 levels. Businesses are consolidating trips into less but more meaningful business trips like only doing one flight instead of 3 and finding other ways to be transported within the country they are visiting.

So, what can we do?

Well as individuals simply getting vaccinated is essential as it allows one to travel, attend sports events etc. Internationally one cannot even enter a restaurant in many places without producing one’s vaccination certificate. For all role players in the industry – we need to manage fleets, staff and training to match these new demands and we will see the increased flow from TMC, to Airline to Hotel etc.

It’s definitely not all doom and gloom though and for the travel industry things are starting to look up and we are getting busy again. Domestic travel has become more robust and the tourism industry is now really starting to flourish again. In our domestic market, 30 percent of people travelling are actually tourists and with more and more countries now looking to our shores for their year-end vacation experiences, I believe we can look forward to a robust December holiday season. Watch this space for more on local leisure travel in my next article and until then please get vaccinated so we can make this the summer to remember as the one where we finally started turning the corner and putting this cursed pandemic firmly behind us!

Stay safe – and whether travelling for business or pleasure – keep the wanderlust alive!LIDIA FOLLI



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