DUBAI: A survey of 5,678 respondents living in the UAE and Saudi Arabia has offered much-needed hope to the travel and hospitality sectors. Carried out by online travel agency Cleartrip, it found that 72 percent of respondents said that they were happy to travel within the next six months once safety procedures were in place and restrictions lifted.
Digging deep into the results, while 70 percent said they were looking to travel to see family and friends, only 1 percent said that this was for business purposes.
With employees stuck at home and not seeing colleagues, let alone clients, does this mean that the rise of Zoom calls and online meeting platforms will do away with the need to travel to meet clients in person?
“Yeah, definitely, I think corporate business travel is going to see a sea change, which probably would have taken, you know, a decade or so (before COVID-19),” Amit Taneja, chief operating officer of Cleartrip, told Arab News, adding that the rise of video conference meetings with clients had accelerated the demise of business travel.
The impact on the region can be seen in the monthly poll by the US-based Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), which found that in February, 63 percent of respondents said that they had canceled all business trips to the Middle East because of restrictions related to COVID-19, with only 2 percent saying they had not canceled travel.
Looking to the future, just 7 percent of respondents in the February GBTA poll said that they planned to resume travel to the Middle East in the next three months. While 44 percent said they may travel to the region again, they had no timeframe in mind, and 28 percent said they had no plans to travel.
In August 2020, global consultancy firm McKinsey carried out a study into the corporate travel sector. It concluded that “given the volatility of business-travel patterns, on top of significant modern technological and connectivity advancements, the economic disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic will have critical implications for the rebound of business travel — and indicates a long road ahead for the sector.”
However, there are some signs of optimism for the global business travel industry, which, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), made up 0.7 percent of global gross domestic product in 2019 and has doubled in size in the past 20 years to be worth roughly $1.28 trillion.
This week, a survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) found that more than a third of respondents said that they could not do business normally without air travel. “People want to get back to travel, but quarantine is the showstopper. As testing capacity and technology improves and the vaccinated population grows, the conditions for removing quarantine measures are being created. And this points us again toward working with governments for a well-planned reopening as soon as conditions allow,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.
The McKinsey report predicted that travel for conferences and large-scale meetings will recover, but not until well into 2021. Cleartrip’s Taneja was confident that while trips to meet clients might not recover, travel for conferences, networking events and team building sessions would come back.
“People didn’t necessarily need to travel to meet your clients or meet your team in different parts of the world,” he said, but added that what we will “probably see a bigger surge in is the conference kind of travel.”