BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
ExCeL London - 24-25 February 2021
ON TOUR: The Business Travel Show - Olympia
The big news and talking point at this year's Business Travel Show at Olympia, and parallel Travel Technology Exhibition last week were not the shows themselves, but that they are both to relocate to Earls Court Two in 2007. The new venue has many advantages over what is essentially a left over relic from the Victorian age. Earls Court itself dates from 1937 but the extension Earls Court Two was only opened (by Princess Diana) in 1991 and has benefited from recent investment. It offers a much larger floor space area than Olympia, has no restrictive pillars and is essentially more attractive giving the organisers far greater scope with what is on offer. Best of all it has very good public transport connections via the Underground. Heathrow is just under 40 minutes via the Piccadilly Line and in the other direction Westminster but ten minutes. Perhaps we might see some key politicians next year, after all business travel is a vital part of the economic equation? Key executives from organisers Centaur were seen scurrying around the nooks and crannies of Olympia signing up this year's exhibitors for 2007 and meeting with success. Whilst actual figures are hard to come by attendance is thought to be up by 10%, very noticeable on the opening morning.
Real news was scarce at Olympia, only Virgin Rail ready to make genuine noises and most keen to show how the trains were at last hitting back at the airlines when it comes to the business traveller needing to get to and from London and the northwest. They had the figures to prove that the air carriers are losing out and were promoting a scheme to give away thousands of first class tickets to airline passengers. Throughout February and March air travellers between London and the Manchester area can swap their used airline boarding cards for a free return train journey between the two cities to sample the total convenience and comfort of intercity train travel. Free first class return tickets will be available for use until August in both directions between Euston and 11 Northwest destinations.
You could call the show the battle of the flat beds, although British Airways, who really started the revolution some years back are not yet ready to unveil their new product and had a dull and frankly disappointing stand, thought by one wag to be the 2005 effort brought out of storage! Virgin Airways stole the show with a display which seemed bigger, brighter and airier with plenty of the genuine samples for people to try out. Just around the corner Air New Zealand has exactly the same product, Virgin kind enough to licence the kiwi carrier with its own design. The airlines only compete on London - Los Angeles and there is enough business to go around to keep everyone happy. Also showing the latest in their luxury products were Air China, Emirates, Eos, Etihad, Gulf, Icelandair, Jet Airways of India, Kenya Airways, Qantas (upstairs once again - it will be a level playing field at Earls Court Two), Royal Brunei, SAA and Turkish Airlines. Strange that nobody bothers to show their economy packages. The Skyteam carriers clubbed together for a single stand, one way of reaching out to the business travel buyer.
Carlson Wagonlit Travel Commercial Director Steve Savage presented ScotAirways Merlyn Suckling with a grand birthday cake during the show. The privately owned carrier started out at Ipswich (grass) Airport, now a housing estate, 20 years ago. Harry Weeks Travel & Leisure Group won the Business Travel Show ”Innovation Award” for its online rail booking tool, Evolvi.
Whilst the two major budget airlines out of the UK chose to use their promotional money elsewhere most of the other players in this market are very aware of how important business travel. Air Berlin, Cyprus Airways, Eastern, FlyBe, Luxair, Scot Airways, SN Brussells and VLM sales representatives were hosting on their stands. The only airport at the show, once again, was London City, promoting the new rail link (which according to Transport for London takes 45 minutes from Earls Court, very little longer than Heathrow).
Success breeds success. One important announcement at Olympia was Millennium Hotels' confirmation that work has began on an extension of its property at Reading, part of the Madejski Stadium complex. It is expected to be completed at the end of March next year taking the property's size up from 140 to 200 rooms. Let us hope that Reading FC can hold its place in the Premier League. The additional capacity will be needed.
In some ways the Travel Technology Show was even busier than the Business Travel area. Perhaps it was the hall which wrapped itself around a hidden balcony. In any event over 100 companies took part including Amadeus, Anite Travel Systems, Comtec, Dolphin Dynamics, Mobycards, Opatia, Netizen, SITA, Telme, Travel Technology Systems, Web Marketplace Solutions and Worldspan.