USA business travel off to flying start | David Sapsted

After 19 months of a virtual ban on all arrivals from Europe because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the lifting of most restrictions from Monday saw a sharp rise in scheduled flights.Although there has been a global boom in video conferencing because of the travel bans resulting from the spread of coronavirus, business and tourism chiefs believe the taste for business travel is still very much alive, especially to the US.


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In-person meetings back on agenda

“In my experience of the USA, it’s a people market – deals get done face-to-face, with a handshake and looking into each other’s eyes,” said Tony Kinsella, CEO of Lucideon, a UK-based materials development and testing company.The US decision to ease restrictions on flights from Europe means that business travellers and tourists alike will be able to enter the country as long as they can prove they have been fully vaccinated and have had a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of arrival.

‘Building back greener’

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the reopening was a significant moment for the aviation sector.  “Transatlantic travel has long been at the heart of UK aviation. These vitally important flight routes will help boost the economy, protect and create British jobs and, through the work of the Jet Zero Council, help to build back greener.”The latest tracking poll from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), showed that 74% of global travel buyers, suppliers and other stakeholders supported the admission of fully vaccinated international travellers into the US.A similar proportion of respondents expected the reopening of US borders would greatly or moderately increase international business travel to the US in the next six months.

Boost to travel management companies

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of travel agency consortium the Advantage Travel Partnership, said US bookings had increased for both leisure and business trips.“Travel management companies booking business travel will be particularly relieved that finally the lucrative transatlantic corridor will once again be open which will certainly help to build their businesses back after such a turbulent time,” she said.“We know from our members whose businesses rely on business travel that there is significant pent-up demand for corporate travel to the US with the London to New York route being the most important.”But she warned, “Travel however still remains incredibly complicated. Testing still remains confusing, for example, it’s not widely known that the lateral flow test required for entry into the US has to be videoed. And domestic Covid protocols once in the US differ from state to state.”

Demand for transatlantic flights up

Cirium, a travel data and analytics company, found that there were 928,559 seats available on 3,688 flights between the UK and US this month compared to 771,587 seats on 3,041 flights in October.However, the number of available seats on transatlantic routes this month remained less than half the number there were in November 2019.Rachel Humphries, Cirium’s director of communications, said the figures showed airlines were “already ramping up transatlantic travel”.She added: “Although November 2021 transatlantic flights are still 49% down compared to November 2019, it’s a positive sign that UK/US flights are increasing month-over-month.”Mark Tanzer, chief executive of the Association of British Travel Agents, described the reopening of was “a very welcome development” not least because, pre-pandemic, 4.8 million UK travellers had made the journey in 2019.

Re-establishing trade and study links

In addition to tourism, continued Mark Tanzer, the US was also an important destination where people went for both work and study.“The reconnecting of the USA and UK is a significant step in the recovery of international travel, helping to re-establish vital trade links which are so vital to the delivery of the government’s ambition to build a truly Global Britain,” Mr Tanzer said.Across Europe, according to Cirium, there are 1,824,283 one-way seats to the US this month on 6,605 flights, compared with the 3,136,199 seats on 11,287 flights in November 2019. Heathrow has the most departures to the US, with 1,753 flights scheduled, followed by Paris Charles de Gaulle (755 flights), Frankfurt (745), Amsterdam (563) and Istanbul (372).John Grant, a partner at European aviation development hub AviaDev, predicted that business travel across the Atlantic would not return to its pre-pandemic levels until the second quarter of next year.“Major conferences in the first quarter of next year have already in many cases been cancelled since the planning cycle is so long,” he said. “The absence of business travel will make the airlines wary of adding capacity back too quickly in the first three months of next year.”


Read more news and views from David Sapsted. 

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