Despite an unprecedented number of disruptions over the last year business air travel is showing encouraging signs of recovery, with travel to emerging markets in Africa and Latin America leading the charge, according to data released today by Hogg Robinson Group (HRG), the award-winning international corporate services company.
Data based on HRG UK clients' domestic and international air transactions and fares from April 2012 to March 2013 indicates that:
Despite ongoing challenges, particularly in the Eurozone economies, there are signs that the business travel market is on the road to recovery. Global air travel booking activity in the first quarter of 2013 was up 3.2% compared to the same period in 2012. After a shaky start to 2012, the number of UK domestic transactions increased by 2.6% in the fourth quarter of 2012, and rose by 4.3% in the first quarter of 2013.
India was among the destinations where HRG saw the strongest growth in corporate air travel. Year on year transaction volumes were up by 11.1%. Corporate air travel to the Rest of the World region, encompassing the emerging markets of South East Asia, Latin America, and Africa grew by 3.3%.
Transaction volumes in Brazil and China declined by 6.1 and 2.3% respectively, as the economies in both countries began to slow after breakneck growth in previous years. Business class transactions showed an overall decrease of 14.8% with economy transactions recording an overall increase of 0.5%.
The shift from business class to economy was particularly acute in Europe suggesting changes made by business travellers on short haul routes during the peak of the downturn has extended well beyond it. Stewart Harvey, Group Commercial Director of HRG says: “The general picture is of an industry in slow but steady recovery. However, despite the improved view there is still a focus on cost by our clients and an increase in the use of economy fares, particularly on short-haul destinations. We’re also seeing rail re-emerge as a genuine alternative to air travel.
“Getting the best value for money when it comes to air fares, and aligning travel budgets to match high growth markets are the priorities for our clients as they look to make a limited pot go further. “The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are now well established business travel destinations and, with the exception of India, the huge growth in air travel to these destinations is slowing. What we’re seeing now is significant growth coming from smaller, less established destinations, like Colombia in Latin America, and Ghana in Africa. These countries are poised for massive growth over the next decade as more international routes open up.”
Encouraging signs after challenging 2012
HRG figures show that corporate travel is on the rise after a challenging period in the second and third quarters of 2012. Transaction volumes recovered in the final quarter of 2012, showing 0.5% year on year growth, and this continued into the first quarter of 2013, when transaction volumes rose by 3.2%.
HRG’s findings are supported by the latest data from IATA, which reported 5.9% rise in the number of passenger kilometres travelled globally in March 2013. Despite cautious optimism however, HRG figures indicate the picture remains mixed, with a number of clients still showing significant reductions in travel.
Global picture mixed with emerging markets underpinning growth
HRG’s Air Trends data shows evidence of an upward trend in business travel transactions and spend across all regions, though the pace of recovery varies significantly.
Growth in the Rest of the World region, encompassing the dynamic economies of Latin America, South East Asia and Africa, grew by 3.3%, providing further evidence that businesses are prioritising travel to emerging economies rather than traditional economic hubs in the West.
Year on year transaction volumes for UK domestic travel dropped by 2.9% while the rest of Europe showed a similar rate of decline at -2.7% for the year. Corporate air travel to the North Atlantic region decreased by 3.9%.
UK and Europe – Mixed picture as economic conditions remains uncertain
UK domestic travel dipped sharply in the second and third quarters of 2012, but recovered in the final quarter with year on year transaction growth of 2.6%. This growth continued into the first quarter of 2013, when UK domestic air transactions rose by 4.3% compared to the same period in 2012.
While the dip in air travel to mainland Europe was not as pronounced, the recovery has been slower, with the prolonged Eurozone crisis continuing to impact growth. The fragile economic situation across Southern Europe has led to signifcant reductions in air travel to Portugal (-20.1%) Italy (-14.6%) and Greece (-15.3%).
Germany emerged the most popular international air travel destination for HRG clients due to its position as a leading commercial centre, though even here transaction volumes were down 1.5%. Strong economic growth conditions and revenue opportunites across Northern Europe and Scandinavia drove a significant rise in air travel to the region.
HRG data shows an 11.5% rise in air travel to Norway and a 16.9% rise to Denmark. Interestingly, transactions for flights to France decreased by 5.2% between April 2012 to March 2013 when compared with the previous year. HRG figures reveal an increasing trend for business travellers to travel to France using high-speed rail services including Eurostar.
Many companies have also changed their travel policy, requiring travellers to travel by rail for this particular route as it allows for work to be completed en-route.
Latin America – Dynamism beyond Brazil
Latin America continues to grow as a business travel destination, but data from HRG indicates the pace of change is slowing in more established markets like Brazil. While air travel to Brazil has grown exponentially over the past five years, HRG’s data showed a year on year decline of 6.1% in terms of transactions.
As part of the exclusive ‘BRIC club’ Brazil may grab the headlines, but the opening of new international routes across Latin America is underpinning strong growth in air travel to less established destinations across the entire region. Peru (+18.2%), Chile (+16.7%), and Colombia (+36.2%) are all emerging as business travel destinations as international companies recognise investment opportunities in these smaller countries.
Middle East and North Africa – Bouncing back
Air travel to the Middle East and North Africa is showing signs of improvement after hitting rock bottom during the social-political uprisings of the last 18 months. Travel to booming Turkey rose by 11.5% year on year. HRG’s data also showed an increase in corporate travel to Saudi Arabia (+9.1%) and UAE (+5.3%), but business travel to Bahrain remains stymied by ongoing political unrest.
Air travel transactions to the Kingdom were down 13.3% year on year. In North Africa, inbound air travel to Tunisia is down by 22.7%, while air travel to Egypt declined by 2.7%. There are however signs this may be changing as Foreign Direct Investment is beginning to have an impact on business travel to the region.
Africa – Rising fast
Boosted by a plethora of new airline routes into Africa and a successful football World Cup in June 2010, the continent is gradually emerging as a desirable destination for business travel. Compared to the sluggish pace of growth in Europe, transaction volumes in Africa are rising at often eye-watering rates, albeit these rises are often from a low starting base. Inbound travel to Ghana was up 50.4%, and 14.8% to South Africa.
Asia – China stalls as India powers back
China may be tipped to overtake the US as the world’s biggest business travel destination by 2015, but even the world’s second largest economy has not been spared some economic hardship over the past year.
A slight slowdown in growth from the blistering pace we have become accustomed to is reflected in the 2.3% decline in year on year air travel transactions reported. Conversely, India was one of the major growth regions identified by HRG’s air trends data, showing year on year growth of 11.1%
United States – Feeling the pinch in 2012
Air travel transactions to the US dropped sharply in 2012, showing a year on year decline of 4.2%. In a sign that air travel to the North Atlantic region has yet to recover, Delta Air Lines, one of the US’s two biggest airlines by revenues, warned of a fall in demand in March and expected unit revenues to fall 2 to 3 per cent in April, as it experienced the impact of a weakening US economy.
Cabin classes – Belt-tightening hits business class
Business class transactions have declined dramatically across domestic and short-haul destinations in mainland Europe with drops of 22% and 45% respectively. Economy and low-cost carrier transactions on short-haul destinations in Europe rose by 1% and 4% respectively, suggesting a widespread shift in travel policy on these routes.
In the UK, economy and low-cost fares were down 1% and 9% respectively, indicating UK domestic business travellers may be swapping air travel for rail, and holding more meetings remotely. Belt-tightening is also extending to cabin classes on some long-haul destinations. HRG reports that while transactions to the Rest of World region are up on the previous year, business class transactions remained flat with the majority of the year on year rise accounted for by economy and premium economy fares.