It’s not news that business travel took a beating during the pandemic. With international borders locked up, it’s estimated that in 2021 alone, the global industry took less than 25% of pre-pandemic revenues.
Parts of our industry were seemingly much more fragile than many anticipated, and with the pandemic stretching out ahead of us without any sign of an end date, plus little targeted government support, many of us watched on in horror as firms faced incredibly tough decisions.
The industry haemorrhaged staff and long-standing brands disappeared, swallowed up by Covid.
“Travel will never be the same”
Mid-pandemic there was plenty of talk around travel never being the same again. And while there may be a hint of truth in this, it’s certainly not the case that people aren’t travelling.
At Gray Dawes we’ve seen a sharp rise in business travel that has continued to climb as we move further away from the last lockdown. In fact, for the last few months, we’ve already been trading at higher than pre-pandemic levels!
But challenges do persist of course; the double whammy of Covid-19 related travel restrictions remain in some countries and Brexit affecting how we operate with the rest of Europe continues to put a huge strain on business travel management. What was once a simple European round trip booking can now take up to four times as long to arrange.
Add to that a pent-up desire to travel and a trend for increased bleisure (tagging a leisure trip onto the either end of a business one) and there’s a lot to navigate, even for those who have worked in travel their entire lives. And if that wasn’t enough, as businesses emerge into this new post-pandemic, post-Brexit era, many at rapid pace, industries up and down the supply chain are finding it hard to keep up.
Opinion Piece: Warren Dix, Chief Commercial Officer, Gray Dawes Travel.
Warren joined Gray Dawes in April 2022 as Chief Commercial Officer. He heads up sales, account management and implementation.
In this article Warren explores the aftershock of the impact of Covid-19 felt across all industries and how travel is recovering.
The supply chain
We’ve all heard about pilots being forced to remain grounded thanks to a lack of flying hours, border staff levels hit by Covid-related illnesses causing airport backlogs and hospitality venues simply not being able to recruit to cover the roles of those that were forced to work elsewhere.
This is not a UK or travel centric issue. It’s global and reaches across all industries. It’s the hangover of a pandemic that literally stopped the world in its tracks and forced it to stay at home. And it’s compounded by:
- The grey areas of Brexit – a hitherto unchartered journey away from the EU.
- The war in Ukraine causing supply chain shortages and an inflation of the energy crisis.
- Fluidity of the jobs market as, worldwide, industries try to re-establish how to run a modern global business in the wake of all they’ve been through.
We’re not alone
Travel is far from the only industry to have been rocked by Covid. The manufacturing of semiconductors used in microchips all but came to a halt. Given the reliance on these components across so many parts of our lives, this affected a vast array of additional tech, FMCG and automotive manufacturing (plus many more industries) around the world.
And this isn’t over yet. China’s continued lockdowns (where most of these essential semiconductors are made) and a huge backlog means vast swathes of manufacturers are still trying to catch up. For car manufacturers alone this is expected to have cost up to £80billion in lost revenue in 2021. Ultimately for travel, this caused a lack of availability of hire cars and therefore higher prices. That’s just one example of a single manufacturing issue causing these huge knock-on effects.
Speaking more generally, post-Covid, staff levels across all industries have taken a hit which has massively impacted service levels across a wide range of areas. In many cases, firms are already experiencing reduced headcount due either to company restructures that took place during the pandemic, or from struggling to find experienced staff to fill open positions because of the sheer level of people switching industries following redundancy or prolonged furlough.
This reduction, combined with just a few Covid-related illnesses, can cause staffing levels to dip, negatively effecting service. In some circumstances, a few unplanned absences may even push head count numbers under required thresholds and force businesses to close or, as we’ve seen in travel, flights to be cancelled.
For the UK, in addition to these Covid-related challenges, Brexit has also made recruiting from across the continent a much more complicated process, reducing the talent pool further and increasing these pressures.
Yes, we’re busy
The upshot of all these factors is that we’re busy. We’re busy helping our clients navigate these new complexities so they can get back to travel, safely and as sustainably as possible. The demand is certainly there. We recognise that parts of our supply chain are still recovering too, and that of course can influence service levels.
But we’re here, day in, day out, servicing clients, learning, supporting our industry partners, communicating. Just as we did throughout the pandemic, and just as we always have done and will continue to do so.
In fact, month on month, we’re now busier than we were in 2019 before Covid-19 even existed. Online bookings have increased by upward of 60%. We’re recruiting at an unprecedented rate to service a range of new and existing clients, and we’re supporting fresh talent coming into the industry with a healthy apprenticeship programme.
The light at the end of the tunnel
And we’re not alone. Those parts of the supply chain that have been struggling are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel too.
Airlines that have needed to cancel flights due to staff shortages are making plans to ease these pressures. Having faced staffing issues leading to widespread cancellations, British Airways is thankfully anticipating no further needed from June, after recruited 1400 new members of staff since October and incentivising staff referrals.
EasyJet meanwhile have chosen to remove a row of seats from some of their flights to allow for a smaller number of crew to operate on board, providing flexibility and avoiding potentially unnecessary cancellations.
Meanwhile over in the hotel world, Marriott have reported a strong recovery in hospitality, and Hilton are predicting a full recovery in group and events bookings within a year, to name just a few examples.
Travel is back on the menu
It’s clear from the recovery and certainly the demand that we’re seeing across the industry and beyond that business travel is very much back on the agenda.
The pent-up desire and need to travel has meant the bounce-back has been even faster than some anticipated, and there’s a certain level of inevitability around hitting that supply and demand sweet spot when so many other parts of the industry were forced to cut staffing levels so drastically.
Thankfully Gray Dawes weathered the Covid-19 storm exceptionally well. As a result, we came out in fighting shape on the other side, ready to hit the ground running.
We’re doing everything we possibly can to get our clients moving again, giving them the benefit of our knowledge and insight to do so as safely and smoothly as possible. While there’s still the potential for some hold-ups on the way, we’ll always be in your corner, keeping you informed… and travelling.
We’re bringing you all the latest business travel trends and topics from our very own industry experts.
Each bite-size session will offer insight, how-to’s and top tips on subjects such as building traveller confidence, implementing a sustainable travel policy, creating successful corporate travel programmes and more!
To help you navigate the changes of business travel, we’ve created the brand-new Traveller Toolkit. This invaluable online resource is packed full of easy-to-use guides and checklists for every stage of every journey. We detail exactly what you need to know and do before, during and after your trip in a post-pandemic, post Brexit world.
You can even check the travel restrictions and health status of your destination with our comprehensive COVID-19 Country Tracker, updated five times daily to ensure you have the very latest information to help keep you and your travellers safe.
Travel is changing. With common sense and a good TMC behind you, travellers can have the confidence to once again take to the skies. It’ll soon be back business as (un)usual.