Corporate travel demand is returning, according to the Advantage Global Network, which forecasts revenues at its 83 partner businesses around the world should reach 50% of 2019 levels this year.
The network rebranded from the WIN Global Network to Advantage Global last autumn. Network head John Hobbs Hurrell said: “We were always having to explain the relationship between the UK parent Advantage and Win, the international network. We should have done more to highlight the international element before.”
Despite the pressures of Covid, “we’ve grown the network when others retracted”, he said, expanding from 70 partners pre-pandemic to 83.
He noted: “The pandemic made a lot of travel management companies [TMCs] evaluate their affiliations.” Those that joined “liked the Advantage proposition and open community”.
Hobbs Hurrell said: “A lot of markets are getting back to some sort of normality. Offices are open, businesses are recruiting – and there is a domino effect. We’re starting to see accelerating growth in some markets, led by the US.”
He forecast the Global network’s revenue would be £7.5 billion this year, compared with £15 billion before the pandemic. “We could see pre-pandemic figures superseded, but we need to be conservative,” added Hobbs Hurrell. “Customers are evaluating whether they need to make the trips they did before.”
The two most pressing issues are the drive for sustainability and recruitment.
“People moved away from the sector and found other roles,” said Hobbs Hurrell. “We need to do more to attract people to the industry. We’ll need to pay more.”
The sector will also need to go back to “more of a split between technology and people” he argued, noting: “Everything came through the consultant [during the pandemic]. Technology was switched off.
“It won’t be easy because we’ve had a period when bookings were high touch and there is still a lot of hand-holding going on, but companies can steer easier bookings to online booking tools. Technology needs to support consultants.”
Hobbs Hurrell added: “We see sustainability more and more in requests for proposals [RFPs] where there was not so much focus two years ago. Sustainability appears now in seven out of 10 RFPs in the US.
“SME customers are looking to TMCs to help with carbon reporting and offsets. Some travel will be scaled back. One travel buyer told me he used to fly to deliver a PowerPoint presentation.
“A question that keeps coming up is ‘Can you help us with sustainability questions on accommodation?’ We’re working to ensure members have the information at their fingertips.
“A lot of customers have said they will strip out non-essential travel. It depends on the customer profile and the travel programme, but it will have an impact.”