The UK corporate travel sector is in a “catastrophic” state as the government “changes its mind like the weather” according to Business Travel Association (BTA) chief executive Clive Wratten.
The BTA chief warned of company failures but insisted travel management companies (TMCs) “will be more important” as travel returns because of the complexity of Covid-19 requirements.
Wratten told a Travel Technology Initiative (TTI) virtual forum “the majority of BTA members have had no revenue for 15 months”, half the jobs in the sector have been lost and “75% of remaining staff are on furlough”.
He said: “It’s going to be a huge job to bring people back ready to serve customers and confident in their futures.”
He insisted: “There is a desire to travel but what is needed is confidence. Instead, we have a government which changes its mind like the weather.
“I’m surprised we’ve seen so few failures. My worry is the most dangerous time will be when we start bringing costs back into businesses.”
However, Wratten argued corporate travel would return “even if we lose 20% of international trips to Zoom”, insisting: “We’ve seen a real shift from online bookings. Some corporates have even shut down their online booking portals.
“Obviously, online bookings will return, but complexity has gone up a couple of levels and people want to speak to someone. TMCs will be more important.”
Rob Griggs, director of policy and public affairs at Airlines UK – also part of the Save Future Travel Coalition – told the forum: “A furlough extension is critical [and] if we lose the summer it needs to go through the winter. We’ve urged the Treasury to help by extending debt repayment schemes and we’re talking to the Treasury about a kind of furlough for [grounded] aircraft.”
Griggs said: “We put a lot of work into what a successful traffic light system would look like. It didn’t need to be this way. A system of green, amber and red could work.
“We support a strong red list. But green should mean green and amber should mean travel is safe subject to mitigation measures.
“We don’t have transparency on why countries remain amber and why certain countries are not green. We’ve seen some data but not enough for us to advise customers.”