Comment: The evolution of business travel

Paul Wait, COO at Applehouse Corporate Travel Management discusses the changes in business travel.

In my previous role as CEO of the GTMC (business travel trade association), I asked Oxford Economics to perform research into whether it could be proven that business travel had an economic benefit to UKPLC. They established some amazing facts based upon data between 2008 (the start of the financial crash) and 2014.

The research found that on average, each business travel trip triggers a £34,000 contribution to GDP and that a 1% increase in business travel would increase exports by £160m, imports by £125m and foreign direct investment by £100m.

Just as interesting but not surprising was where the most amount of business was conducted. The top 10 markets that UK businesses travel to, account for 70% of all transactions.

Nine of that 10 are all European with only the USA breaking into that listing. The top three, namely France, Germany and the USA account for circa 33% of all business trips from the UK.

Hardly surprising therefore that low cost carriers dominate the business travel scene and that the UK economy is so dependent upon the EU and US.

So, the stereotype frequent business traveller jetting the around the world to far flung markets seems a thing of the past or is it?

Will anyone ever get to replace Fred Finn in the Guinness Book of Records as the most travelled man in the world (718 times on Concorde).

The demographic of the frequent business traveller being a middle-aged man is also out of date according GTMC/Audiencenet research with 60% male and 40% female.

According to that research, business travellers are also getting younger with a 110% increase in those aged 18-29 to a total of 23% of that community.

Fast forward to 2028 and repeat this exercise and research post Brexit and I wonder what this might show. Will British business look at history and return to the days of true international trade? Will business travellers rediscover their exploring and adventurous spirit?

Certainly the Department for Trade is busy promoting the opportunities and need for business growth outside of the EU.

The Free Enterprise Group and The Royal Commonwealth Society believe that reconnecting with the Commonwealth is most likely the quickest way in which these opportunities and growth can be realised.

The Commonwealth is comprised of 52 nations and the UK is the largest European goods export destination for Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Jamaica. It is the second largest for Bangladesh, Kenya and Papua New Guinea. Third largest for Singapore Malaysia, Malawi and Zambia.

In polling undertaken by IFF Research British businesses prioritised trade with the Commonwealth countries post Brexit.

So those in the business travel industry need to think hard about their business models, most of which are based around technology and service that provides self-book tools, travel policy management, duty of care and cost control.

Anyone can book a transportation ticket or hotel room but with prices changing throughout the day, that is no longer a reliable measure of performance or differentiation.

Value is most likely going to be delivered in assisting British business expand into long haul markets by delivering such services as translation services, cultural awareness programmes, in destination support and using return on investment in business travel as a measure, not the price of a flight or hotel.

Applehouse is seeking out those value-added areas for businesses and their travellers. We are continually looking for enablers that make the business trip less stressful and more productive. We want UK businesses to focus on winning business for the UK and not having to act as mobile business travel agents.

Things just got very interesting for all of us!

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