Advantage TMC member insights into the impact of the US opening
- 11 Nov 2021
- Sonia Michael
Today marks a momentous day for transatlantic travel. This morning, our friends at British Airways and Virgin Atlantic put aside 37 years of differences to celebrate the US reopening. At 08:30, A350-1000s from both airlines left London Heathrow for New York JFK. We know bookings have increased since the news that the US was opening to the UK on 08 November was announced, and today will almost certainly increase consumer confidence in travelling back to the US and we are hopeful our members will begin to see even more US bookings coming in this week.
Advantage members have been hugely affected by their travellers not being able to travel to the US for so long and none more so than our global business travel members. So, we asked seven TMC members how they felt today’s events would affect the industry and the sector moving forward and the importance of the US market to their businesses. Read on to hear their views.
“The end of the entry restrictions to the USA will reinvigorate economies across the world and will play a critical role in kickstarting the recovery of the global corporate and leisure industry. We know from our clients there is significant pent demand for corporate travel across the pond, so we do look forward to a much-needed busy Q4.”
Regional Director EMEA, Omega World Travel
“The US and New York especially was historically a relatively large market for us at Blue Cube, the impact of the pandemic has been catastrophic on the travel industry, and this is probably the best news we’ve had since areas around the world have slowly started to open up. We have clients that have been desperate to travel to the US but have been unable to do so or alternatively have had to go through lengthy and costly applications for an NIE (National Interest Exceptions for Travel to the United States during COVID-19 restrictions) to be able to travel.
We have already seen a large uptake in travel to the US from 08 November and expect that to continue as it becomes clearer on exactly what will be required to enter the US. Travellers have become accustomed to PCR and Antigen tests over the last few months and although we believe that system to be flawed and we know our travellers are frustrated by it, currently if that’s what has to be done to travel, they are willing to do so. The appetite to travel for business is most definitely still there and we are busier than we had expected to be at this stage, our reservations team are flat out supporting our travellers in the booking and testing requirements relevant to their destinations.”
Director, Blue Cube Travel
“The opening of US/Transatlantic routes is huge for TAG & equates to about 50% of our Corporate UK business. Now that travellers have confidence in being able to travel on those routes with sensible testing and quarantine processes, we’ve seen volumes rebound to about 65% of 2019 levels.”
Director of Agent Product Support, TAG
“This has been a really positive and important shift in the travel landscape for us. Many of our clients have global operations and most have a US based office. The transatlantic route is a key component to their inter-company relations, target markets and core operations. As such, we have definitely seen a surge in bookings and frequency for flights to the US since the announcement.
As we deliver premium business travel management, there’s an expectation from our clients that throughout the pandemic, we find ways to enable them to safely continue to travel. Relied upon as the experts, our consultants have to be up to speed with all the latest developments, often assisting with complex requirements such as National Interest Exemption Visas. Any move towards a more simpler travel mandate definitely frees up time and capacity for our consultants.
Although part of the reason for the uplift in enquiries is a direct result of US borders reopening, i.e., requests for trips to the US, we have also noticed a wider impact as the announcement boosted confidence as a whole across the industry.
Each step we take towards travel becoming simpler and with less ‘unknowns’ around rules, testing, paperwork and quarantining, then traveller and booker confidence will continue to improve. We know our consultants can deliver, but we need wider spread confidence to continue to rebuild.”
Director, MIDAS Travel
“London to New York is the most important route for many of Global Travel Management's clients. Most of these clients have faced commercial obstacles over the course of the pandemic, exacerbated by the travel ban imposed on UK - and EU - visitors to the United States
So, we can already see that the opening up of transatlantic travel will be a significant advantage to many companies.
Other clients, however, have been able to work within the rules while continuing to travel to the United States. In fact, London to New York has remained the most popular route among GTM clients, even before November's 're-opening'. We have worked with several companies to ensure that key, permitted staff and representatives have been able to travel in order to undertake critical tasks to their businesses.
Each trip is now treated as a mini-project. Business travel is now not just a case of choosing a favourite airline and booking a business class flight. Every international trip requires meticulous and detailed planning as well as experienced judgement calls on restrictions, quarantine issues, capacities, hotel capacities, changing passport requirements, updated visa rules and more.
Our clients know that business travel has become more complex. So, many clients aim to give us as much notice as possible to plan the perfect business trip.
But we've honed our skills during the pandemic. So, when urgent travel can't be avoided, our travel consultants cover every base, to ensure trips that used to be simple, can still go ahead in the new world of business travel.”
Sales Director, Global Travel Management
“I haven’t had a chance to dig out the actual numbers, but I do know we are seeing an uplift in USA traffic ‘looking prior to booking’ and the issue is mainly those corporate‘s and the travel arrangers wanting the comfort of talking to a TMC beforehand with regard to Covid restrictions and documentation required.
Also, people have allowed their ESTA’s to expire over the Covid lockdown and these need to be renewed before departure.
We are already seeing leisure bookings increased now to pre-Covid levels, but business travel is only at 50% of precious levels so it’s going to take some time to recover.
North American partners are reporting they have 80% load factors on domestic aircraft and British Airways say they’re going to be up to 89% capacity on transatlantic routes by Christmas 2021. This race for market share by BA doesn’t necessarily mean that ticket prices are going to be any cheaper, but it is fuelling competition and does mean there should be welcome and sufficient capacity.
We are seeing plenty of choice and availability popping up although corporate‘s are having to be forewarned that flight changes will be a new reality of life.
British Airways are offering flexibility on flight changes which remains a plus point although we don’t expect this to last past Christmas.
It’s going to take us six years to recover so this traffic is a welcome shot in the arm but it’s far from sufficient to mean that we are out of the woods yet!
The TMC is proving the best place to get the best advice and the most flexible and competitive fares although transactions are taking twice as much effort at the moment with a lot of comfort required by those currently looking to book.
CSR and traveller tracking is a prerequisite for traveller safety and flexibility/contact in the event of changes so we’re seeing corporates mandating the use of their approved TMC who can fix any issues that may arise without fuss or delay.
Hopefully, we’ll all get out there for a bit of Christmas shopping and welcome retail therapy! I think it’s a way off yet before we actually can start to breathe easy.”
Managing Director, Meon Valley Travel Group
“We have seen an influx of bookings to the USA since the announcement that it is opening up at last. It is great news, but I feel there is still a lack of confidence from UK travellers, both for business and leisure. The increasing rates of Covid are a cause for concern in terms of countries doing a sudden U-turn and shutting their borders again to UK travellers. That and the lack of confidence in the Government to make timely and appropriate decisions I fear will halt travellers. There will be an element of, let some others try it first before we see any normal activity return.
A bit pessimistic perhaps but we’ve had so many false hopes over the past 20 months!”
CEO, Ace Travel Management
“With the reopening of international inbound traffic to the United States, the result is staggering. This policy shift will finally make it possible for the reunification of thousands of families, friends, and business associates from around the world who have been separated for more than eighteen months.
Barring a new Covid-19 variant or mass outbreaks of disease, economic pressures realized by higher fuel costs and supply chain shortfalls are seen as more of a challenge than Covid-19 for 2022. The long-term result of increased operating cost pressure will translate into significantly higher travel costs.
From mid Q1/2022 and beyond, the consensus among our North American members mirrors the wide range of public opinion, part science/fact and part emotion as it relates to Covid-19, where corporations are leaning on a cautious approach to the return of travel. Meeting & Events is seeing enormous demand as well as Corporate Relocations and New Hire Onboarding & Training which was significantly delayed due to Covid-19 and is now beginning to move forward.
With the Delta Variant fresh in the minds of travel buyers, the mood on the street is a “wait and see approach.” There is hesitancy on how to recover “responsibly” and not perceived as being overly aggressive hence the modest recovery estimates based on 2019 turnover.
Travel talent is top of mind with our TMC’s leadership. Once travel begins in earnest, staff resources will remain severely constrained as thousands of Travel Advisors have retired or have moved to non-travel industry positions. Our members are also seeing challenges with managing resources to process both airline Covid-19 voucher processing along with traveller’s moving from online booking platforms to Travel Advisor aided booking assistance. This trend is fuelled by the complex process to navigate the myriad of ever-changing travel restrictions by destination and abiding by corporate travel policies.
Pandemic fatigue and the ardent desire for corporate entities to connect with customers will drive an upward trend for individual corporate travel including meeting and events traffic.
We are optimistic.”
Managing Director, Hickory Global Partners (USA partner)
Some of these comments have been reported in The Business Travel Magazine today here >>