(Scroll down for the rankings)
2021 proved to be yet another difficult year for the industry. Early hopes for an end to the Covid pandemic were dashed with most companies continuing to ask their employees to work from home or on a hybrid basis, with a knock-on effect for business travel. International restrictions on where people could travel on business and other barriers, whether from testing or form-filling, made any travel that did happen onerous.
With business travel at a fraction of its pre-pandemic levels, it is understandable that some TMCs chose to take the opportunity to sell up.
This year’s ranking no longer include standalone entries for Egencia, Click Travel, Reed & Mackay and Flightline, although their substantial volumes appear under their new parent companies – American Express GBT, TravelPerk, TripActions and Global Travel Management respectively.
Another longstanding constituent of the ranking, Altrincham’s Cresta Travel, has moved out of the business travel sector entirely.
“Consolidation has always been there, whatever the conditions in the market,” says The BTA’s CEO Clive Wratten. “The Covid scenario may have accelerated one or two.”
He points out that much of the money coming into the market is from private equity. “It is an encouraging sign for the industry. The money wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t hope for the sector.”
Wratten says there is still uncertainty in the sector but that as every day passes, the concerns lessen. He does have concerns over the “growing pains” that the restart of business travel is inflicting.
“The biggest worries are in staffing and resources for servicing clients and trying to get through to suppliers. Without doubt, there has been a drain on the skillset for the industry. Encouragingly we have seen people coming back into the industry who wouldn’t have done so last year but we have a gap at the experienced level and need to attract new talent in.”
He believes the role of the TMC is likely to change. “The sector needs to show its worth more than ever,” says Wratten. “This shift to being a professional services partner is critically important. TMCs are offering consultancy, monitoring the 180 day Brexit limits, duty of care and wellbeing, it is such a broad range of services. Services that were peripheral or ancillary are now becoming core.”
Wratten says that the organisation’s members are “all incredibly busy and the outlook remains pretty positive”.
“While the events in Ukraine are truly awful, it hasn’t had much impact on confidence or bookings. From an industry perspective, we are optimistic that things are going in the right direction but it will not be without significant bumps and challenges.”
Looking ahead, Wratten feels there may be some impact from high oil prices in 2023-24. “It will have minimal impact for 2022, then it will start hitting with higher prices on air tickets in particular. Prices are sensitive and I feel for airline and hotel revenue management teams. They will want to raise as much money as possible but market forces will keep things in line.”
TMCs will be looking to GDP to bounce back to help drive business travel but relief may not come from that source. On 19 April, the IMF published new forecasts for the G7 nations including the UK and these have been tempered by the war in Ukraine which has also raised inflation projections.
The IMF now forecasts UK GDP growth of 3.7% for 2022, down from the 4.7% originally forecast in January. This is the equal second highest in the G7, behind Canada. However, looking further forward, in 2023 the UK is forecast to grow by 1.2%, down from 2.3%. This is the lowest projected annual growth rate in the G7.
Ones to watch for 2023
This year’s ranking looks quite different from previous years because of a fair amount of consolidation. The pressures to consolidate are not going away soon so next year’s ranking looks set to be different again. Despite the challenges, new TMCs are also emerging. Included below are two new TMCs who look set to make the rankings in 2023.