Opinion: What does 2008 hold for travel? Keep watching the skies…

Opinion by PR Week editor Danny Rogers

It is always better to look forward than back, so what will 2008 have in store for the travel industry?

Mulling this over – on a seasonally frosty morning, and as a jumbo glints in the winter sun high above me – one comes to the conclusion that air travel will be right at the heart of any narrative over the next 12 months.

As the newly formed big two of the holiday industry enter the FTSE 100 for the first time, their airline strategies will come under ever more scrutiny, from analysts and the media.

Both management teams are battling to merge various fleets, which represent their most expensive, and most strategic, assets. And, as long-haul holidays become a key battle ground – certainly in terms of margin – they will have to make the right decisions in terms of major new purchases.

All airlines are, quite rightly, coming under pressure to give travellers greater legroom in economy class. The House of Lords recently castigated the Civil Aviation Authority for not yet enforcing higher minimum seat pitches, and at some point this legislation must bite.

For far too long airlines have been cramming us into economy, when they should be trying to improve the travel experience if they want real customer loyalty.

Next year will certainly be revolutionary for the airport experience. British Airways will have Heathrow Terminal 5, while Virgin Atlantic will revamp Terminal 3, hopefully lifting overall customer expectations of check-in and security. But the Government will also make some critical decisions in terms of whether to expand airports’ capacity to cope with passenger growth.

Of course, the big question is how much the Government will tax air travel overall.

It does seem crazy that Air Passenger Duty is twice as high in premium economy as in economy, particularly with the concerns over passenger comfort.

But even more so, there is still no real Government strategy on airlines versus the environment.

Will this administration come up with a constructive way of tackling this genuine problem? Will the airlines get their act together and take the initiative to allay draconian action? Or will consumers simply start voting with their (cramped) feet?

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