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Tough Times Still Ahead for Corporate Travel

August 31, 2009 By: George Dooley Travel Agent


Recessionary trends

Recessionary trends drove a 15 percent decline in U.S. corporate travel in 2008, and an 11 percent drop is forecast for 2009


World-class technology, experienced managerial talent and competent staff, and first-class marketing and customer-service delivery systems are proving inadequate for business travel agencies to beat the unrelenting recessionary onslaught.

"Amid double-digit declines in traveler demand and revenue, the corporate travel landscape is undergoing a major realignment," observed a recent PhoCusWright study.

"Corporations are pulling back across the board and all players-from airlines to hotels to travel-management companies-are under pressure," notes the report, resulting in a 15 percent decline in U.S. corporate travel in 2008 and an 11 percent drop forecast for 2009.

PhoCusWright says that while corporate travel has totaled about 40 percent of the travel market, this share will decrease as the fall-off in demand far outpaces the decline in leisure/unmanaged business travel. Corporate travel share of the total travel market will drop markedly from 39 percent in 2007 to 35 percent in 2010.

Equally disturbing is the new research by the National Business Travel Coalition, which forecasts a business travel growth rate of only 0.3 percent over the next five years for the U.S., compared to growth rates of 5.3 percent in India and 6.5 percent in China.

The U.S. represents the largest global business travel spend with $261 billion or 28 percent of the world total ($929 billion), followed by China at 10 percent and Japan at 8 percent, the NBTA/Egencia study notes. As for growth in business travel spending measured in terms of dollar increase, the U.S. is expected to be fourth, just behind India.

Globally, businesses spend an average of about 1.1 cents of every sales dollar on travel, though it varies widely by industry. And reflecting the global recession, nearly every industry foresees a decline in business travel outlays in 2009 from 2008 levels.

There has also been a decline in the travel time businesses require to support their sales and operational activities-a clear indication of the rising productivity of business travel. "The increase in productivity highlights several major shifts within our industry," says Rob Greyber, president, Egencia. "Stronger travel management and greater efficiency when traveling have contributed to this change, driving down business travel spend per revenue dollar."

Scaling Back

The U.S. Travel Association notes that while leisure travel is holding up relatively well in the downturn, business trips are taking a harder hit. Expecting a 2.7 percent reduction in 2009 and a recovery for business travel in 2010, the association says, "companies are making decisions to scale back in the current environment, and business travel is no exception."

While economic forecasting firm Global Insight expects leisure travel to recover in the second half of 2009, it does not foresee recovery in business travel until the first half of 2010. The overall level of domestic travel won't return to 2006 levels until 2011, the firm predicts.

"Although the travel slowdown will vary by traveler type and purpose, we can expect businesses to further reduce travel budgets, especially in the convention market," believes Doug Shifflet, president and CEO of D.K. Shifflet & Associates.

Susan Steinbrink, PhoCusWright's senior research and corporate market analyst, warns, "Sharply curtailed corporate travel budgets will mean not only less travel in 2009, but stricter policies and tougher policing when
spending does occur."

On the bright side, Steinbrink says, "The recession will positively affect innovation, as corporations and travel-management companies intensify efforts to optimize travel programs. This means bringing more spend under management, accelerating integration efforts across the corporate-travel value chain, and leveraging new technologies-from mobile to videoconferencing-to bolster the bottom-line."

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