There’s no doubt that our sector is hurting. Today (11 March) chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a big emergency package in the first Budget of this government.
I am glad to see that the government is taking Covid-19 seriously, and I welcome the measures. Whether they go far enough is another matter.
The government’s responses to Covid-19 and its economic impacts are turning out to be unprecedented.
For the business travel sector, most corporate clients have imposed some form of change to their travel policy for most destinations in the world – with only 46% of domestic trips remaining unaffected.
Two-thirds of our TMC partners are telling us the current crisis is having a significant impact, 19% are moderately impacted and only 14% have experienced a slight impact.
The general feeling around the uncertainty is mixed but the overall consensus is that strategic and tactical planning through this period is imperative.
Our TMC partners are mostly small- and medium-sized enterprises, so the situation is serious. Our partners are used to turning over a £1 billion of business a year and are good, solid businesses, however there is no doubt that the impact of travel advisories, changes to corporate travel policies and aircraft route cuts will impact all aspects of the service chain.
Sickness is also a concern and deployment of staff from their offices to self-imposed isolation are all areas for consideration for a TMC.
So the sick-pay rebates, the loan scheme, the abolishing of business rates for small retailers and small business rates relief all look good in principle, but we have yet to see the detail, which will be what counts.
But working so close to airlines, we were all also hoping for APD cuts – even if it was temporary – and there has been no sign of this.
We know that both suppliers and customers will be looking for more favourable terms, which could create a further squeeze.
There are chinks of light. Today we heard from colleagues in Singapore, that with the number of infections lowering in Asia and bottoming out, life is beginning to return to normal and consumer confidence is on the rise.
In the meantime, we need to be working to resilience plans.
We may not know when normality will return, but it will, and we are encouraging our company partners to make sure they make efficiencies where they can, ensure they are in the strongest of health and prepare for a recovery.
There is an enduring need for business travel – how essential it is to establish relationships; the effectiveness of trade shows and how bosses of global businesses need to know what is happening across their business.
Yes, business travellers moan, but human nature is at heart restless and there is still a thrill of setting off for a favourite city or somewhere new. Many love what they do and business travel will be back.
Abby Penston is chief executive of Focus Travel Partnership, a business travel consortium for the independent sector.