Strategic Meetings Summit London, 26 September,
September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
Following a tournament in which fans from 24 European nations frequently informed us football was “coming home” (or “coming Rome”, as eventually proved the case), travel managers across the region are now wondering whether the same is about to prove true for business travel.Europe is currently in its holiday season. Traditionally, the busiest time of the year for business travel immediately follows in September. Will September 2021 prove the point at which the bookings graph shoots up again for the first time since coronavirus practically wiped out corporate travel 18 months previously?BTN Europe canvassed the views of four different European travel management associations. What emerges is a tale of two Vs: vaccination and variants. The mood is slightly different in each country. But overall the story is that recent optimism about vaccination finally opening the door to travel resumption (though never to the same levels as pre-Covid for environmental reasons) is now tempered by fear that contagious variants may delay the great return yet again.The view from FranceFrance has no restrictions on domestic travel but that is set to change as President Macron tries to push up doggedly low vaccination levels. “As education was obviously not enough, the French government has decided to take strong measures which will force the most reluctant to be vaccinated,” says Michel Dieleman, president of the Association of French Travel Management (AFTM).From 21 July, anyone boarding a flight or inter-city train will need to show a health pass proving they have either been fully vaccinated or tested negative. The same holds true for entering restaurants, bars, cafés and shopping centres.
People are not ready to return for large face-to-face events. For the time being, what we will see is travel that’s absolutely necessary for doing business
France has higher vaccine scepticism than other Western European countries but AFTM international director Claude Lelievre believes most business travellers have already received their jabs. “People who travel abroad often have to be vaccinated anyway,” he says. AFTM is confident business travel is on the cusp of a comeback once France’s annual summer shutdown is over. “Business trips will recover for sure in September as they always do after the summer break,” Lelievre says. AFTM’s best guess is that volumes will be around 50 per cent of what they were in 2019, although it warns that figure could be significantly lower if Covid variants start to inflict damage.Lelievre is less optimistic about the conference sector. “People are not ready to return for large face-to-face events,” he says. “That will take some time to recover. For the time being, what we will see is travel that’s absolutely necessary for doing business.”
The view from GermanyGerman travel management association VDR is seeing distinct signs of an uptick in business travel activity even during the holiday season that is now under way. “The last couple of weeks have been really promising,” says VDR president Christoph Carnier, who is also head of procurement category for travel, fleet and events at the science and technology company Merck. VDR is detecting a shift from air to rail and car rental for domestic trips.Cross-border travel within the EU plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, is now permitted on production of the EU Digital COVID Certificate. The certificate confirms that the holder has been vaccinated, had a recent negative test or has immunity after previously contracting the virus. A recovery in travel to other European countries has thus far been slow, according to Carnier. Whether that will change come September is finely balanced. If the health situation does not deteriorate he expects that “individual trips will see a big increase. There is an appetite to meet in person again.” On the other hand, Carnier warns, “the Delta variant means there is another wave coming. The question is how hard will that wave hit us? How many people will need treatment in hospital? In the end, whether there are hospitalisations or not will be the deciding factor.”Like his AFTM counterparts, however, Carnier does “not expect big meetings for the rest of the year. People are reluctant to attend and are waiting for the situation to calm down.”
The view from Denmark“There are definitely signs of
opening up. It will be in the autumn.” That is the positive view of
Anne Mette Berg, general manager of the Danish Business Travel
Association, who summarises the prevailing mood as one of “cautious
optimism”.Denmark was one of the first countries back in April
to introduce a digital pass, called the Coronapas, similar
to the more recently launched EU Digital COVID Certificate, which has
been used to gain admission to public spaces. Restrictions on
capacity for meetings is being lifted from 1 August and available
meeting space in Denmark is hard to find for September to November.
“There is a willingness to start travelling again. I think we have to
live with the risk from now on,” says Berg.
The view from SwitzerlandAssociation of Swiss Travel Management president Dominic Short was thrilled to attend his first post-coronavirus in-person conference last week. The event took place at a convention centre which opened at the Hyatt Regency Zurich Airport in April 2021 but is only now able to accept groups. “It was super-busy and everyone was very happy to be there,” says Short.Meetings booking are gradually recovering for Swiss venues, but so far, says Short, it has all been local business. Domestic travel has reopened fully but at present most trips are by engineers, builders and others travelling to work on location. “Big companies are still reluctant to move their people back into offices,” says Short, an attitude which is holding back white-collar travel. Short links the sluggish recovery to Switzerland’s generous financial support for businesses, with the government continuing to pay 80 per cent of the wages of furloughed employees, and most employers topping up the remaining 20 per cent in the pay packet. “People are not in a hurry to return to work when they are well covered,” says Short.Although Switzerland lags behind much of Europe with its vaccination programme, summer holidays are selling very well. But there is no sign yet of improved bookings for business travel. “We’re waiting to see what will happen to the holidaymakers,” says Short. “If we come out of the summer without a massive pick-up in infections, then there will be a big upturn in business travel. But no one is terribly optimistic.”