July / August 2021 Newsletter
Whose voice is it?
In the dog and tail concept, it’s the dog who wags the tail, or at least it should do, when the tail wags the dog then that indicates potential issues and problems. Apply this rationale to business travel and who is it that influences or shapes the business travel sector? Are the large multi-national corporations the dog or are they the tail compared with the SME (Small & Medium Enterprise) sector?
Is it also an 80/20 case with 80% of the travel for business being undertaken by employees of the SME sector with 20% coming from the bigger multi-national players: or is it vice versa? However, who is it that impacts the decisions that airlines et al make when it comes to planning, scheduling, and operating the flight frequencies that business travellers undertake; is it the 80% or the 20%, and indeed, who forms that 80% and 20%?
Large corporations/multi-nationals have a larger platform and mechanism to attract a larger audience to voice their opinions, SME’s do not. The big boys are the ones whose opinions, thoughts, plans, projects, concepts, and concerns make the media that many people read, the same cannot be said of the SME sector. Does this indirectly therefore have a significant baring on the planning in the travel industry and in aviation in particular?
Airlines and Hotel chains, when trying to understand the current and projected business sentiment nearly always seek the stance of the multinationals. From this information they would seem to plan accordingly whether that be in opening hotels that have a significant custom from contracted travelling multinational employee’s and where a business is “’normal”” attitude is being adopted, or with airlines who during talks with those same multinationals with whom they have a pan global or pan European relationship, gauge the sentiment of whether a sense of normality is returning in their sphere or whether it’s the opposite: then adjust their flight operations to suit. Might it be the case that in these situations the tail is wagging the dog and the 20% is the influencer and not the 80%? In other words, 80% of business travel is performed by the SME sector and it is they who make up the bread and butter of business travel.
Large Multinationals often (though not always) adopt a “one size fits all” travel policy for their staff across the globe. They are after all responsible through “Duty of Care” obligations to look after their employees at all times and in particular their travelling staff. A carpet travel ban until date X in the future is often the common approach. Date X could be for six months, or it could be until the year end, whenever that may be. The SME sector by comparison, are much more fluid and are less likely to have severe or rigid restrictions on travel in place. After all, it’s their sales people whom they depend on and sales people have to make deals, and deals, as anyone with sense knows, take place in a face-to-face environment.
To a large extent, the SME environment is the economic backbone of many countries’ GDP and it’s worth noting that in this sector, some 40% of regular travellers from SME’s are currently saying that they will not be able to maintain business connections if Business Travel does not return to some degree of normality: quickly. The figures also show that 95% of travellers who work in the SME sector are more than willing to get back on the road again and fear for their company and their own jobs if they don’t start travelling. Whilst such opinions may initially be slated to come without thought by those contesting the feelings, these same people in the SME area are also aware that the new world will not be the same as the old world and they will themselves have to change their on the road behaviour, such as staying in selected hotels and using cars instead of any form of public transport. In essence they will be “road savvy”.
The bottom line of all this is that there is a reasonable argument that travellers from small and medium size business’s see an even greater need to travel than their counterparts at larger companies, they recognise the importance of travel to their own organisation and are significantly keener than their counterparts in the bigger corporations to re-start the world of business travel. The bigger question is perhaps, do they have the ears of the suppliers who can facilitate this i.e. the airlines and the hotels. Desire should not be stunted by decisions made on the other side of the world nor by minority players seeking to be politically correct.
Jamadvice Travel | BCD Bulgaria
Easyjet’s “got bottle”
The desire to be seen to be more green than green or at least be seen to be heading towards green, is going to become as important as is the bottom-line black ink figures in the annual accounts. Easyjet seem to have taken this challenge to a new level with the announcement that they are rolling out new uniforms for their cabin crew and pilots. The difference being that they are made of re-cycled plastic bottles!
The move will, according to EasyJet, prevent half a million bottles sitting in landfill sites or in oceans each year. Each uniform is made from around 45 bottles. The airline also add that the fabric is more durable, fits better and is more elastic allowing a greater freedom of movement for the users.
Additionally, all the related packaging has been replaced with recyclable and biodegradable materials including collar stays, shirt clips and short covers.
Based on this one would assume the Green Police will be around to see this Message in a Bottle (sic).
Better late than never
Just like the 2020 Olympics and the 2020 Euro Football finals that were both held in 2021, the same is true of the World Expo 2020 which was to be hosted in Dubai last year but will now be hosted over 182 days starting from October 2021.
Anything that is done in Dubai will never likely be under stated and that will certainly be true of this year’s event which is claimed to be the largest event ever staged in the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia region.
As for Dubai, it currently has 128,545 hotel rooms spanning 715 hotels including 134 Five Star hotels. Not forgetting of course that not too far away and easily commutable are hotels in Abu Dhabi as well as in the other Emirates that make up the UAE.
Back on the green theme following the EasyJet article, billionaire and “virtuous touching on condescending to anything that will save the planet” as well as being the Amazon boss, Jeff Bezos did his bit to save the planet recently (not) when he took off on a 10.5 minute space flight. One can only guess the carbon footprint that left behind but as many now realise with the new world order, it’s more a case of “do as I say, not as I do”.
Just to put a slight knife into the equation, the advent of joy riders in space; a slant at Mr Bezos and Richard Branson the week before, the definition of an astronaut has been updated by NASA to ensure space joy riders do not claim to be such! This was also triggered by the sales pitch of Branson’s Virgin Galactic, self-styling their passengers as astronauts.
Long term plan to unlock
There is nothing like planning ahead, even though to many level-headed people, those plans seem somewhat questionable. Therefore, the news in early August that New Zealand will open its doors to those travelling from Low Risk (in pandemic terms) countries looks like good news, doesn’t it? Except that they expect that to take effect from, wait for it, early 2022!
So, do they know something we all don’t know or as yet haven’t been made aware of? Have they gone directly to page 178 of the script when the rest of the world has only reached page 87 and how will they know which countries will be Low Risk in 2022? Or has that already been decided.
Even for those giving a wide berth to conspiracy theories, announcing that the pandemic problem won’t be solved in a country that doesn’t have a huge problem in the first place, smells like some know more than others or have already read the instruction book.
Situation getting back to normal?
Is it a sign that sentiment feels that the world is getting back to some degree of normality when the French and Italian Trade Unions announce they plan to go on strike? Of course, most Europeans already know that July and August are the months the Unions that represent anything and anyone in the travel sector like to get their voices heard, even if it comes at the discomfort of the general public.
It must have been gut wrenching for the past twelve months as usually militant unions realised their (annual) potential actions would impact no-one. Hence with the first scent of travel picking up, a lot of their pent-up strike anger the Unions will have built up is sat waiting to be unleashed on anyone brave enough to want to jump on a plane or train et al again.
As the colour Green becomes the defacto default setting for any business or organisation wishing to join the club of acceptance and also allied to the Green brigades insistence that anything seen flying in our skies must be evil, PR clamber has been noted amongst those fighting back and who wish to extol the virtue of future electric aircraft. Unlike cars however, electric aircraft might be a long way from realisation.
The propulsion of anything is cheaper if done by electricity than by fuel, that’s clear, but the weight of batteries needed to operate a jet plane would be huge and would overwhelm the actual design of a plane and also the economics associated with taking a flight. The spiral continues with the extra power needed to power the increase in weight exceeds the theoretical cost saving of using electricity. That’s also not mentioning that batteries don’t have infinite lives and would need to be constantly replaced.
No doubt we will one day get to the point where electric planes do gain traction, but that day is some way off just yet and will lag way behind the sight of electric cars being the norm on our roads. Meanwhile, the real battle is making conventional air travel as green as is possible and fighting off the argument that mankind should take the train (to Japan and Australia) or use Zoom for the rest of our lives.
Sleeping the way through
To get some extra bucks and to fill empty seats, Lufthansa has devised a stop gap product called “Sleepers Row” which consists of the whole row i.e. three or four seats in the Economy class of Long Haul aircraft where a single passenger can sprawl out and sleep. The offering comes on flights of eleven hours and more.
The availability is on a first come first serve basis and is priced at an extra 159 – 229 Euro per flight though only three rows will be available. It also can’t be pre-booked!
So translated this means “if you show up and there is a row of seats available next to you that are/ will be empty, then we will charge you more. Sic.
Playing field evens out
As the rules governing tourism differ from one country to the next and change with increasing regularity, it was interesting reading the latest from Portugal where it was announced that proof of a Covid-19 vaccination would be required to stay in hotels. What was also added down the order was that this would also apply to those staying in Airbnb accommodation. The question then arises how on earth this can be implemented and indeed controlled.
Airbnb are a fantastic option for many people whilst travelling on business or for leisure, they reflect the shift towards self -catered accommodation where people can do what they want, how they want and when they want, all in the comfort of their “’home from home”. From a Business Travel point however, they are very contentious.
Airbnb are, despite attempts to structure them, out of the scope of most licensing laws and as such provide a significant risk for people. This is particularly relevant to business travellers where the employer has a “’Duty of Care” to its travelling employees.
On the other hand, might it also be the case that staying in such a place as an Airbnb, away from the crowds and hence away from the risk of contact with hundreds of people in a hotel, is in fact a safer option for someone who has become paranoid about being amongst crowds in hotels and who therefore wishes to reduce the risk of him/her contracting some sort of flu virus from such crowed areas!
The world of travel can hardly be said to be returning to anything akin to normality and the engines that power the world would certainly not allow that perception to happen. However, a quick glance at the flight schedule in and out of Sofia Airport these past few weeks would indicate that the number of flights operating is pretty much the same as it has been in previous “’normal”” years, indeed possibly slightly higher! As a rough guide there are around 65 -70 flights operating per day out of Sofia with the same number landing. This is exactly the same level one would roll off the tongue when asked about airport activity pre-pandemic.
Those wishing to turn the optimism into pessimism can conjure up any sort of argument to countenance this fact, such as the planes being smaller which means less passengers being carried, but this equally would be total nonsense. One thing that has pumped up these numbers is the shift by airlines to operate flights to beach holiday destinations and away from pan European City destinations. Of course, there were charter flights in the past but it would seem not to the same level as we are seeing now and certainly not by the same players. September and October may see a levelling off of flight numbers and passengers but it is certainly an interesting ongoing observation.
Meanwhile, people who are re-visiting the capital after a few years absence and even frequent users of Sofia Airport are noticing the rather shambolic state of certain parts of the “’new airport”’. The car park looks like it needs a bulldozer ripping it down and re-building. Either cowboy workmanship at the outset and/or an inability to maintain it to satisfactory standards would seem to be where the finger is pointed at. Equally, the outside grass areas around the car park and the whole external area looks like it last saw attention a decade ago. It really wouldn’t cost very much for such areas to be maintained and kept at least partially respectable.
Sofia Airport is the first thing a new visitor to the country sees and first impressions count. Not that anyone in power or holding responsibility for the airport would consider such a thing.
The busiest airports across Europe during the first half of 2021 were not the traditional ones we have all come to know but were rather located in Russia and Turkey. Istanbul topped the list even though its own figures were 62.5 million passengers down on 2019. The Moscow airports of Sheremetyeva and Domodedovo were second and third with Istanbul’s second airport of Sabiha Goken fourth and little-known airport Moscow Vnukovo fifth.
Of the bigger and better-known airports, Paris CDG was 7th busiest, Frankfurt was 9th and Amsterdam Schiphol 10th. London Heathrow was 14th.
Across all European airports. Passenger traffic was down 76.9% compared with 2019 and indeed down 36.2% on 2020, which benefitted from a normal first two months of the year.
The Euro 2020 Football Competition that was held during June/July 2021 is now over and football attention turns to the World Cup being hosted in Qatar at the end of 2022.
As with most mega sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup, connected with them are huge infrastructure projects which usually involve improving public transportation; be that building new airports or metro connections, or building new accommodation to either host the competitors (in the case of the Olympics) or the building of new hotels to house VIP’s, Sponsors and spectators. Thus, it’s not a surprise to hear that Qatar is building new hotels to meet this requirement. What is mind blowing is that they are adding a further 105 hotels to the existing 184.
In the current climate of not knowing what the future holds and the drive to reduce the carbon footprint and having a corporate and individual green agenda, what on earth can justify the building of 105 new hotels? Does Qatar want to rival the UAE and take a slice of its pie or is it purely the case of they have the money and they can do what they wish and saving the planet is for someone else to worry about. Even if the hotels will barely ever be used again.
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