Workzone: Corporate travel market may have softened this year
Businesses may be as wary as vacationers about spending a lot on travel as long as the economy remains sluggish.
In a new survey of travel agencies, 80 percent said corporate bookings are the same or better than a year ago. Though that indicates solid business, it may indicate a softer travel market than last year when 84 percent said business travel was the same or better than in 2010.
Europe's economic woes and the upcoming presidential election are among the factors impacting business travel, said Barry Liben, chief executive of Travel Leaders Group, which surveyed 269 U.S. travel agency owners, managers and agents between July 30 and Aug. 23. Those surveyed said 50 percent or more of their portfolios are composed of corporate customers.
"Business travel in particular is probably soft, but it's not fallen off the cliff," said Jeff Bires, general manager of Worldview Travel, which has offices in Mt. Lebanon, West Mifflin, Washington, Pa., and Weirton, W.Va.
While a significant amount of business travel came to a halt when the economy tanked in late 2008, much of that has been restored "and we're much stronger now than we were in 2009," Mr. Bires said.
"For some international travel where people used to travel first-class, they're now traveling in coach. But where company budgets allow, people are in first-class." His company has generated the same volume of revenues despite the recession, he said, because though it may book fewer travelers, airline tickets have jumped in price.
"So there's not a real big downturn in the amount of business we're doing," he said.
Asia remains the emerging market for business travelers, but destinations in Europe and South America remain strong and there's increasing corporate travel to Africa, Mr. Bires said.
Much of the recent business travel booked by Gulliver's Travels, Shadyside, is generated by manufacturing and finance companies, said Melissa Bellemare, who handles corporate and group travel for the agency. Those industries are traveling a bit more this year than last, she said, but "it's a difficult question because it depends on the company and how much business they do [in other locations]."
For those who do fly, more opt to stay in higher-priced accommodations, according to the Travel Leaders survey.
Of those surveyed, 55 percent said the majority of their customers choose the "luxury" or "upper upscale" hotel categories compared with 39 percent who book "upscale" or "upper midscale" rooms.
Sometimes pricier hotels actually save travelers time and money if they are located closer to customers and meetings, Mr. Bires said.
"Business travelers want Internet service in their rooms and full restaurants so they don't have to get in a cab to go elsewhere to eat."
First Published October 7, 2012 12:00 am