Leisure travel will rebound quicker than business travel and agents and travel management companies will become more important than ever as people start to fly again, according to Virgin Atlantic’s sales chief.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, vice-president of sales Lee Haslett said: “Leisure has always been incredibly important to Virgin Atlantic. If you look at some of the key routes we serve, but also the experience we offer, I really believe that we are the leisure long-haul airline of choice.
“We absolutely believe leisure will recover faster than business. In fact, we’re starting to see that already; you’re starting to see pockets of people travelling back to where those travel corridors have opened up, where you’re not having to quarantine.”
Haslett said the trend was also showing in the airline’s future booking patterns.
“When we look at places like Barbados and how they’re booking, there’s pent-up demand from a leisure perspective. I think with us in the UK, as soon as we see a few days of rain, we want to get into the aircraft. So I think leisure will return.”
Despite his prediction that business travel would be slower to recover, Haslett insisted some promising signs were emerging.
“People have seen that they can work in a different way, but when I look at our business segments, there is real pent-up demand from a business perspective in certain segments. So if I look at media, entertainment, production, there’s been a real halt on production of media and content creation for films and so forth.
“If I look at West Coast routes, there’s real demand for people to want to travel. There’s a lot of demand for pharmaceutical travel as well, and professional services.”
Haslett said he was certain that expert advice would play an even more important role in future travel bookings.
“One of the things that will be more important in both leisure and business, certainly in the early time, probably from Q4 this year when people start to return to travel, is that travel agents and travel management companies are going to be more important than ever before,” he said.
“Customers that historically used to be very competent travellers and almost went into autopilot because they knew that whole flying experience are going to be new to travel again because they don’t know what that the onboard experience is going to look like.”
Haslett said he had been talking to a business travel customer last week who had started asking basic questions about flying.
“They were asking me questions like ‘what time should I get to the airport?’ Things that you just knew as a traveller before,” he said. “I think that whole end-to-end experience within travel, not just the airlines, but also when you get to airport, airport experience, hotel, Ubers, or taxis – we’ve all got a part to play. I think more than ever, travel management companies and travel agents are going to be key to the recovery.”