Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
Global Travel Risk Summit Europe, April 2023,
3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
You could be forgiven for thinking you were entering the Virgin Travel Show at Olympia instead of the Business Travel Show (BTS) 2005.
A huge Virgin Atlantic box - covered in hundreds of eye masks - dominated the hall and no matter where you were its lurid reds and purples tempted you in for nibbles and drinks into a sort of dimly-lit nightclub. But even before you got to the ”Branson box”, young things from Virgin Trains were thrusting leaflets into your hand as you wandered in off the street. The train's booth was right by the entrance and playing catchy music, so immediately grabbed your attention. And before that, there was a New York-style yellow cab outside promoting Upper Class, but not any old cab - a Rolls-Royce.
I have no idea what Virgin pays for such dominant publicity, but only the Middle East carriers seem able to match Sir Richard for effort and cost. Etihad Airways and Gulf Air had a good showing with typically bright, luxurious, stands.
But what about Virgin”s great rival British Airways? How was it pushing its never more important Club World and First message.
Well, quietly and in an understated way.
Its stand was right opposite Virgin's and about a quarter of the size. The number of people on it - guests and staff - was also about a quarter. We realise that the BTS 2005 is not really about the size of your stand, but about networking, striking deals, wowing journalists with new products and being seen to be there in a business travel environment.
But to be honest, having a big stand helps and the delegates I talked to about the show did mention Virgin for no other reason than its dominance. I felt sorry for the all the businesses up on the gallery, not just because their stands were all very functional, but they had to keep staring at Virgin from above - where it looked even bigger!
As ever Virgin proved investment in publicity and hospitality will pay off in raising profile with the key business travel sector, a lesson for all the bean counters at other airlines.
The show followed the tried and trusted format with all the usual suspects showing - business travel houses, top airlines, Eurostar, car firms, some hotels and ancillary services. Even Czech Tourism was there, an innovative move at a business travel show, but to be applauded for thinking beyond World Travel Market.
The myriad seminars covered all the burning issues, with a range of quality speakers from the industry, but as ever it's a pity that some are attended well and some not so. That's a problem of shows all over the world, but with an event as niche as BTS perhaps ”less is more” could be a policy worth looking at in the future.
In my time covering the show, around eight years, I can't remember any debate really catching the audiences attention, but then discussion on hotel rates, rail spend and the endless talk on low-cost airlines isn't exactly supposed to leave you wowed and amazed. Olympia also does have enormous meeting rooms, which can leave the speaker a bit overwhelmed.
As ever, the media centre was well-managed, although more computers are always needed, and there was a steady supply of releases and info for reporters.
As with other shows, the level and impact of news is not high, but the gamble is always whether to put it out at a big event and risk being lost or wait until after.
Those that did make news available included Eurostar, which brought its business lounge to the show, and made an effort to talk about its service and pricing; CSA Czech Airlines unveiled a bonus points programme for flyers to Prague from Heathrow and Manchester; SN Brussels Airlines has put on more frequencies to Budapest and Prague; Malaysia Airlines unveiled its new Golden Club Class offering with seats on stand; Qantas talked about its Relax campaign to put the joy back into flying and invited guest to try its Skybed; Kenya Airways launched its e-ticketing service from Heathrow to Nairobi; and Eastern Airways launched its Southampton - Aberdeen flight. SkyTeam and Star Alliance were also there in numbers to promote their partnerships.
On the hotel front, Accor showed off its new properties; Hazlitt's Hotels showcased its luxurious London locations; and the Asian Hotel Alliance promoted itself and new facilities in up and coming Vietnam.
The technology companies and online agents, like Expedia, were also at Olympia in numbers, as were the business travel agents. American Express Business Travel Services announced European online bookings increased by an average of 263% from 2003 to 2004. The UK is leading the way in harnessing the Internet for travel bookings.
Special mention must be made of BA. It won the inaugural BTS Innovation Award. The airline took the prize for its Manage My Booking self-service option, which allows passengers to select a seat, special meal, check-in online, obtain their own boarding card, manage miles in the Executive Club and arrange upgrades or flight changes. BA beat off stiff competition from five other travel companies for the award. These included Eurostar for its improved business class and faster trains; Harry Weeks Travel for self-service rail ticketing; Lufthansa for in-flight Internet access; OAG for its Flight Finder system; and ETA for its online RFP programme.
BTS event director Paul Robin praised BA for its award. ”The BA service has proved massively popular with customers since its inception and we have every confidence that this is an innovation that will be rolled out by other airlines in the very near future,” he said.
All in all, the 11th London BTS was, I suspect, a success for participants. More than 200 were there from all sectors, and some from areas you may not have expected, like the bag sellers on the gallery.
The business sessions were informative, if a little dry, and the level of news is what is expected by reporters, with access to key executives good if you want immediate comment. As an aside, journalists regularly vote BTS the best show for access to companies and ease of interviews. There was talk last year of the show, perhaps, over-growing itself and even moving to ExCel. I didn't hear anything like that this year, and it would be a mistake to move it just yet - it is manageable, in a good location with rail and Tube access and enjoys excellent attendance.
Certainly, the move from the Business Design Centre in Islington was a good one, but Olympia is just right for this show and its intimacy is correct for business travel. Leave ExCel to WTM.
BTS 2005 showed the industry is in good shape and moving forward with innovations and technology to really help the traveller. The positive attitude of the airlines was also heartening after the turmoils they have suffered, and if you are Virgin then the cash is certainly rolling in from somewhere.