I remember the conversations back in the early days that travel will not return, we will never see this kind of growth again, but that has not been our experience. Once the restrictions were lifted, there was a strong influx of demand.– Melissa Elf, FCM
When Covid-19 first reared its ugly head across the world, industry
players feared that this marked the beginning of the end for business
travel. Many assumed that people would acquire a taste for working from
the comforts of home, and may be reluctant to take to the skies again to
conduct business even when the pandemic blew over.
However, when countries rapidly threw open their doors to
international travellers, the industry realised that their fears went
unfounded. Instead, they faced other challenges, one of them being the
lack of available air tickets and hotel rooms arising from the
staggering influx of business travel bookings.
This is a happy problem though, a sentiment collectively shared among
the panelists at FCM Th!nk 2022 in Athens, Greece on 10 May. The panel
comprising of regional experts compared their observations and findings
from new business travel demands and challenges varying from region to
Being one of the first few regions in the world to reopen its
borders, the Americas has had a head start towards acclimatising to the
new business travel landscape. Billy McDonough, president, Americas, FCM
shared that providing a “self-service travel environment” through
digitisation has paid off in recapturing the business travel market.
While McDonough had seen an increase in demand for digital
self-service platforms, this doesn’t mean that traditional travel agents
are obsolete. These platforms help point travellers to “the information
they need” at the pre-booking stage so that “they can make the right
decision for both themselves as well as their company’s programme”.
McDonough shared that even when customers are using their
self-booking digital platforms, they would still seek the advice of
their travel consultants to get questions on any concerns surrounding
travel restrictions and safety protocols.
Panelists at Th!nk 2022 (from left): Marcus Eklund, global managing director, FCM; Melissa Elf, general manager, Australia, FCM; Billy McDonough, president, Americas, FCM; Bertrand Saillet, managing director, Asia, FCM; Steve Norris, managing director, EMEA, Flight Centre Travel Group.
Echoing similar findings, Melissa Elf, general manager, Australia,
FCM said: “We’ve definitely seen the rise with travel consultants,
particularly the expertise of our consultants during this time. They’re
getting so many inquiries channelled through to them. Also, we’ve
noticed a real decline initially in online booking uptake from our
“Customers are really just looking for that hand-holding and
expertise,” Elf added. “There is a massive issue in the supply chain in
Australia. At the moment for every inbound phone call we receive, our
consultants are making four outbound phone calls, calling around
different hotels to try and find availability for customers.”
Meanwhile, Steve Norris, managing director for Europe, the Middle
East and Africa for Flight Centre Travel Group is currently seeing
double the number of bookings compared to pre-pandemic times, which as a
result is causing a “huge amount of pressure on turnaround” given the
lack of manpower and resources.
Asia’s business travel has not yet advanced to the same recovery
levels as other parts of the world partly due to the region's more
prudent approach to reopening. Countries like Singapore and India
though, which have fully reopened to the world earlier than its fellow
Asian counterparts, have been experiencing good business travel growth.
to Bertrand Saillet, managing director, Asia, FCM, “Singapore has
recovered by 85%, and India is already back to pre-Covid levels of 100%,
which shows that Asia still has a huge potential for growth.”
Travel agents in Asia can stand to gain from looking at long-haul
business trips. Saillet observed that previously, much of the traffic in
Asia came from regional travel, but there are more requests from
business travellers outside the region now, and the average length of
trips has increased from five to 14 days.
Due to the desire for longer business trips, it is driving more
demand for traditional travel agents as they are able to provide the
expertise required to navigate complex travel regulations for long-haul