One of the constant themes of my discussions with Barclays’ travel customers over the past couple of years has been the ongoing political and economic uncertainty, and the subsequent difficulty planning for different scenarios when it’s not particularly clear what is likely to happen with Brexit – even just a few months in the future.
Many times, customers have said something along the lines of “if only we could look forward to January like we used to”; the year used to get off to a flying start with a traditionally strong month for advance holiday bookings, fuelled by high consumer confidence. It was an annual opportunity to relish.
However, for many, this has been a shadow of its former self in recent years. As far as the travel customers I talk to are concerned, clarity can’t come soon enough as it would give them, for the first time in at least three years, the certainty they need to plan ahead and make January a month for travel companies to really look forward to.
Certainly other major challenges remain, not least the ever-increasing scrutiny on the travel, aviation and cruise industries in terms of how they attempt to mitigate the effects of climate change and promote responsible and sustainable tourism.
This will continue to affect thinking not only in leisure travel but also for TMCs and what the changing demands of corporate travellers will mean for them.
Those with teenage children may well have heard about, or experienced, pressure brought to bear on parents by their children in terms of their travelling habits and carbon footprint.
Nevertheless, over the last few weeks, a number of our travel customers have started to talk more optimistically than I have heard for some time, speculating 2020 might be the start of “getting back to normal”.
Another effect of more certainty could well be more M&A activity in the sector, after a bit of a slow-down in the number of deals during 2019.
This has meant there is a fair amount of private equity cash sitting on deposit waiting to be spent on good acquisitions across a number of sectors, including travel.
Obviously, there are winners and losers in all areas, but strong-performing sub-sectors among our travel clients include luxury; activity and adventure; niche; and experiential holidays, where it is easy to see further consolidation and M&A activity during 2020 if we have a more certain political and economic environment.
The after-effects of the demise of Thomas Cook will still be there for a while, not least in terms of the perceptions of the travel industry, including for some lenders and credit card companies.
Those who are more informed, however, should be able to grasp the huge divergence there is in terms of different travel industry business models while avoiding a blanket approach, so promising, successful and well-managed travel businesses can move forward with confidence in 2020.