BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
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Jennifer Baker is a Brussels-based journalist reporting on European affairs, including politics, technology and transport
The Covid-19 pandemic has upended the traditional – often misplaced – notion that business travel is some sort of perk. As I explained in my previous article, some Europeans are willing to get on a train for essential meetings, but airlines are still treated with caution.
At the end of July, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) updated its forecasts and predicted that global passenger traffic will not return to pre-Covid levels until 2024. That is only partly due to a natural reticence to engage in high volume travel in close proximity to a melting pot of society. The inevitable international recession will also take its toll on business travel budgets – forget about perks, travel will only be for the most pressing reasons.
Yet according to Financial News, prior to the pandemic, spending on business travel was more than €1.2 trillion a year, or 1.7% of global GDP. The technological solutions like Zoom and Teams were already there, so business leaders clearly felt that travel was essential to companies’ bottom line.
“People getting together face-to-face is the only way, really, to achieve ultimate success in business. Many of my colleagues in the industry, be it on the corporate side, the travel side or supply side, they’re very anxious to get back out on the road again and see their customers and colleagues,” Dave Hilfman, the executive director of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) recently told the BBC.
So it is perhaps not so surprising that despite the horrific year that air travel is in for, that we see some new routes being launched. Budget airline EasyJet recently announced it was now licensed to fly a new route to Ukraine and could start as early as autumn this year. Elsewhere in Europe, LOT Polish Airlines launched flights to Wroclaw from Budapest, while Luxair also started a new route to Luxembourg from Budapest.
Balázs Bogáts, Head of Airline Development at Budapest Airport told the media that there is notable demand for links to the Hungarian capital. “There is significant Hungarian commuting traffic to Luxembourg, as well as strong business links and inbound tourism to Budapest,” he said.
But look closely at the schedules of those new routes and a different story emerges. The Luxembourg–Budapest route will only operate twice a week, while the Wroclaw–Budapest flight will only be weekly. No opportunities for a day-long site visit or quick overnight to meet with colleagues.
According to Linus Bauer, Visiting Lecturer in Air Transport Management, City, University of London, even “in the build-up to the coronavirus pandemic, the airline industry was facing crippling overcapacity issues. Huge levels of competition were resulting in a shrinking pool of profit – in many ways the industry was competing itself to death.”
As much as the drain in demand, that may account for the reduction in flight frequency. Even a centre like Brussels, where the European Union Institutions could normally be relied upon to fuel demand for daily in and out travel, routes have been cut. Air Malta, once a provider of twice-daily flights from the island to the European capital has slashed its schedule to just three a week.
So amid the chaos of the pandemic fallout, the inevitable damage to the airline industry, and perhaps over-optimistic hopes of recovery, look closely at the schedules and work out what they really mean for your business travel.
This article was first published in the Sep/Oct issue of BTN Europe.