TORONTO — Now that leisure travel is going gangbusters, all eyes are on corporate travel.
Will corporate travel recover to pre-pandemic levels, or is there no going back from the ease of Zoom and other video conferencing tools?
Even if employees long ago realized there’s no substitute for in-person meetings with long-distance clients, for many companies, the savings that come with slimmed-down travel programs may be too good to pass up, especially with inflation concerns.
That’s not something anyone in the sector wants to hear, least of all airlines, with so much invested in their highly lucrative business travel offering.
Along with cruising, corporate travel (along with the MICE market) was among the travel industry’s hardest hit during the pandemic. A mass exodus to remote work, the skyrocketing popularity of Zoom and – not least of all – closed borders, all combined to bring the sector to a virtual standstill starting in early 2020.
While other countries, like the U.S., reopened borders and eased restrictions for outbound travellers relatively early in the pandemic, here in Canada restrictions only really began to lift in earnest in spring 2022.
That was long after many Canadian companies, and employees, had grown accustomed to making do with online solutions, when travel plans were next to impossible.
PACE IS PICKING UP
In the U.S., the message is clear: business travel is on its way back, even if it still has a ways to go.
With that in mind, we checked in with Patrick Doyle, VP and GM for Canada, American Express Global Business Travel, and front-line Trevello corporate travel specialist Angela Landry, for their take on corporate travel’s recovery out of the Canadian market.
Doyle says the pace of business travel bookings is picking up.
“Business travel recovery has strong momentum, with our overall transactions in June reaching 76% of 2019 levels,” he tells Travelweek.
Here in Canada, AmexGBT is seeing strong recovery as well, he adds. “Pent-up demand is still coming to fruition and the role and perception of business travel within organizations is shifting and holding greater weight than ever before.”
Even better, after all these years of Zoom, employees and management are rediscovering the value of connecting in-person. “There is overall acknowledgement that people need to be on the road to connect and collaborate in-person with their customers and colleagues,” says Doyle.
He shared corporate travel booking trends, with all indications showing that business trips across the North Atlantic to Europe are leading the sector’s recovery from Canada, ahead of
transborder and domestically within Canada.
Internationally, corporate travel from Canada to the UK still takes the number one position, just as it did in 2019. Rounding out the top five international country pairs for corporate travel from Canada are France (#3 in 2019), Germany (down a spot from #2), Mexico (steady at #4) and Italy (surging ahead from #9 in 2019).
Doyle also reports a recent surge in business bookings from Canada to Asia, as more countries in Asia reopen their borders and relax travel restrictions.
“I’M HOPEFUL FOR A BUSY 2023”
In mid-2021 Angela Landry, a Trevello (TPI) agent based in Nova Scotia, told Travelweek that when the pandemic first started in early 2020, her annual $2 million+ in corporate sales went to nothing. “I mean nothing. Not even a booking a week for almost a full year.”
Just over a year later, we’re checking in again with Landry, who normally has an 80/20 corporate/leisure split at her agency. Does she see the start of a recovery?
“Business travel has increased, it’s not fully back to capacity but I do see an increase,” says Landry now.
Her corporate clients run the gamut from SMEs to larger companies, and she says they’re all travelling again: “They are all back in action.”
There are some caveats, though. “It seems my corporate travellers are more careful now about choosing what trips to take and when to take them,” she says. “I had a client who used to be on one or more than one 6-hour flight each month pre-COVID. Now he travels once every few months. People have gotten used to Zoom and alternate ways of doing business.”
And just like everyone else during the pandemic, road warriors took a hard look at their life priorities – and many decided they didn’t want to spend so much time travelling for work. “I also feel during COVID, people had time with their families and got used to a slower pace of life. A lot of them just don’t want to travel like they did,” says Landry.
Cost-cutting from some of her clients, while understandable, has unfortunately cut into her revenue. “I’m seeing a conscious effort to reduce costs and save time across the board,” says Landry. “I have a few companies that use points only to pay for their employees’ travel. Some even do the hotels and cars on points. This is great for the companies’ bottom line, but from an agency perspective we make zero commission on points tickets and rely on service fees for payment.”
Like most travel agents, Landry is nevertheless optimistic. “I do feel because we were far more cautious with re-opening it will take some time to catch up to the U.S. Things are moving along though. Let’s see what the last quarter will bring and I’m hopeful for a busy 2023!”
For more on this story see the Sept. 15, 2022 digital edition of Travelweek here.
Top image: Patrick Doyle, VP and GM for Canada, American Express Global Business Travel; and travel consultant Angela Landry (photo credit Bernadine Umiah with Studio Umlah, Bedford, NS)