The pain of the pandemic was felt across the continent but that does not mean the impact was felt equally across nations - nor across TMCs.

Spain suffered most of all the European economies, with GDP plunging by 11 per cent in 2020, compared with an average 6.6 per cent across the whole of the euro zone. Italy was also hard hit, with GDP dropping by 8.9 per cent during the year.

The Nordics managed much better, with GDP there falling by just two to three per cent. As a result, there were far fewer business failures in the sector than elsewhere in Europe.

But that's not the only reason - consolidation has already happened to a large extent in the region.

The DBTA's general manager Anne Mette Berg says that much of the consolidation took place eight or nine years ago and that most business travel is now serviced out of Copenhagen with some smaller branches in places like Aarhus.

Lotten Fowler, general manager of the SBTA agrees. "Not much consolidation has happened in the last five years or so. It has looked the same for quite a while. We have maybe three good-sized national TMCs," she said. 

The pandemic has been hard on the national players though. Fowler says that business was down 97 or 98 per cent and the nationals have had to react sharply. Sweden's Resia has closed branches while Big Travel has been restructured.

Sari Viljamaa, managing director of the FBTA says that many TMCs in the region have been protected by government support but when that goes, so may they.

"I am sure we will see some bankruptcies," she said.

As a result of the consolidation of the past decade, the two biggest players in the Nordic market - Amex GBT and CWT - now control perhaps 80 per cent of that market.

When travel does come back, there will be appetite for a change in the way that TMCs are remunerated, something TMCs will welcome.

"I think there will be a demand for new models when we see the end of Covid-19 and when travel starts again. I have a feeling that travel managers are looking for development and are maybe willing to pay more for some new services that the TMCs can provide," says Berg.

Is business travel going to return there?

SBTA's Fowler thinks that business travel is not permanently crushed even though many corporates in the Nordics are looking again at sustainability and achieving net zero.

"I think you are going to worry about your competitors travelling if you don't. Once you have a working relationship I won't need to go and see you for the regular check-up but we are still going to need to meet," she said.

Berg believes there will be a challenge when travel restarts in earnest as many people in the industry have been made redundant or furloughed.

"Covid-19 has been a practice of not travelling so much. Is travel really necessary? If we are going to a greener world, some of the travel has to go. The travel that will go is from the big companies. If you have an internal meeting, you will never go anymore except maybe the managing director to talk about how things are going in the company but the two-hour meeting with 20 people will never happen again," she said.

FBTA's Viljamaa believes travel will come back in Finland, when the vaccination programme is fully rolled out. "There is pressure from corporates to get travelling again," she said.

"Demand for personal service will be bigger than what is was before Covid and corporates may end up having to pay TMCs a retainer, just like in healthcare."

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