So, as you stumble bleary-eyed into 2012, what are you excited about and what are you dreading? Most Londoners are slightly ambivalent about the year’s biggest event, the Olympics, which will affect their commutes, their leisure time and their working life. There are going to be plenty of other things to consider this year: Angela Merkel and David Cameron’s bleak new year speeches suggest that the Eurozone will continue to struggle and that household budgets will be squeezed even further. But what does all of this mean for the business travel industry?
It can hardly have escaped anyone’s attention that the world’s developing countries are taking advantage of Europe’s woes, ready to grab their time in the spotlight. It’s likely to continue: the City think tank CEBR (the Centre for Economics and Business Research) recently predicted that China, Russia, India and Brazil (otherwise known as the BRIC countries) will overtake the UK, France and Germany by 2020. This has been a huge drive behind business travel trends in 2011 – with more and more businesses sending workers there on short or medium-term trips – and this will certainly continue in 2012.
In these four countries, expat communities are developing and businesses are realising the potential these new residents bring with them, meaning that doing business there should gradually become easier. Meanwhile, African countries such as Uganda and Nigeria should become more and more important destinations as India and China throw their substantial economic weight behind them. It’s vital for the business travel industry to monitor these shifts in economic power so that they are ready to cater for demand as it grows. At SilverDoor, we’ve recruited Matthew He, a native speaker of Cantonese, Mandarin and English, to improve the way we do business with property providers and clients in China.
As the events of 2011 taught us, political disruption can affect leisure and business travel alike. Following the events of the Arab spring, and increased political unrest across the world, it’s worthwhile ensuring that employees travelling abroad have extensive knowledge of the security situation in the country they’re visiting – what to avoid and how to act in the case of political unrest.
Back in the UK, it’s going to be difficult to escape talk of the Olympics, the capital’s largest event in years – until the beginning of September, anyway, when the Paralympics finishes. Most travel bookers will already have a clear plan in place, but even once the trip is booked it’s worthwhile considering other factors. Because travel will be affected across the capital, it will be useful for business travellers and bookers to make a note of which underground stations to avoid and suitable alternatives, such as nearby stations which will see less Olympics traffic. It might be a good idea to make a note of what locations will be holding events and when, and to ensure that meetings are arranged to avoid Olympic rush-hour times.
At a time when everyone’s budget is reduced, how we get around could also change in 2012. With Air Passenger Duty set to rise by 8% in April – and as budget airlines add hidden charge after hidden charge - train travel should become a more viable option for cash-conscious businesses in 2012. We’ve already noticed a sharp rise in clients travelling by train to destinations such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, France and Germany. Whether British rail operators will take advantage of their position remains to be seen: as anyone who travels by train regularly knows, services tend to be unreliable and overcrowded. But services to mainland Europe – which are clean, efficient and fast – provide a great alternative to flying.
What else can we look forward to this year? Well, there’ll be plenty of media coverage of the US election, which may not affect businesses this year but will certainly affect them in the years to come. The UK will enjoy an extra bank holiday for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June, which will bring extra eyes to the UK – although perhaps not a significant number of visitors – and Euro 2012 will bring extra leisure visitors to Poland and Ukraine, with games held in cities across the two countries. Whatever happens, if it’s as unpredictable as 2011, it will be an interesting year.
Pictured: UB City Residence Apartments in Bangalore, India