Business Travel Association (BTA) members greeted news of the US reopening to UK travellers with cheers and applause yesterday at their conference in Liverpool.
BTA chief executive Clive Wratten hailed confirmation of the border opening from November as “light at the end of a very dark tunnel”.
Earlier, Wratten had acknowledged the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of many in the sector.
He confessed: “I had periods when I felt I just couldn’t find a way through all this. All we did was talk about Covid every day.”
Wratten told the conference: “Seeing people is such a lift for the spirit.”
The news came totally unexpectedly. Gareth Morgan, managing director of Cavendish Advocacy which handles the BTA’s public affairs, described reopening the US as “the biggest challenge”, telling members: “[Transport secretary] Grant Shapps is nowhere near the conversation on that. Boris Johnson is dealing with it and he is struggling.
“Our information from Delta Air Lines is it is not happening.”
Wratten urged the conference: “We can’t lose the momentum.” He told the conference: “The next piece is how we prove the value of meeting in person and the importance of using a travel management company [TMC].
“There is a misconception that business travel is just people in suits going to meetings. It’s not.
“We have to get on the front foot on sustainability and show business travel is not all bad. We have a big job in promoting business travel and its importance if done sustainably.”
“The next few years are going to be about rebuilding, [but] we need to get beyond Covid impacts.”
He warned: “The impact of Brexit has not come yet. The Cabinet Office is just working on the rules for business travel. We’re engaging with them on that.
“Most important, we need our members and partners. Collaboration is closer than before. The industry needs to stop the civil wars that were going on.”
Suzanne Horner, chief executive of Gray Dawes Travel and chair of the BTA, took up the same theme without referring to the tensions between TMCs, airlines and global distribution systems (GDSs) over distribution.
Horner told the conference: “The traffic lights are slowly turning green. We must make sure no one gets ahead by making life difficult for others.
“While we’re competitors, we’re also colleagues. We must work together as one. We must continue to put customers at the heart of our businesses and accept that none of us owns the customer.”
She compared the sector to “a relay team which must pass the baton seamlessly to one another” and said: “We’re not going to bounce back as we hoped in the next couple of years, so let’s all do this together.”