UK business leaders offer positive prognosis of rapid resurgence in business air travel

29 June, 2022

The UK was among the first countries in the world to raise its head above the parapet that has been the COVID-19 pandemic. But, still, the recovery has been slow and comes with tremendous economic and social challenges.

Many see the aviation industry will be key to the recovery of other sectors, including leisure, hospitality, and international conferencing. New research demonstrates the importance of a thriving business air travel sector to the economy and positively and indicates an overwhelming desire from businesses to return to the skies.

A new report, ‘Backing Business Air Travel’, published by WPI Economics for London City Airport, examines the economic benefits of a speedy return to business travel to the UK economy. The consultancy compared a slow return to business travel compared to a speedy return and found that the quick return scenario would boost the UK economy by as much as GBP17.5 billion between now and 2030.

Business air travel has an important role to play in the recovery

According to the report, before the pandemic, activity in the aviation sector related to business air travel contributed some GBP20 billion to the UK economy each year and was forecast to grow, with business air travel directly creating jobs and boosting living standards right across the country. As the country continues to recover from the economic and social impacts of the pandemic, this report argues that business air travel has an important role to play in the recovery.

An overwhelming desire from businesses to return to the skies

The findings from the economics, data insight and public policy consultancy also establishes an overwhelming desire from businesses to return to the skies. A poll of over 1,000 business leaders shows that 73% expect their companies to travel for business over the next two years. This figure rises to 89% of business leaders in London.

Demand and need for world class connectivity and business air travel has never been stronger

Despite significant changes in working practices during the pandemic, with many more people working remotely and flexibly than ever before, the demand and need for world class connectivity and business air travel has never been stronger, outlines the report.

Research with businesses and interviews with business leaders conducted as part of the report found tha almost all (98%) of those business leaders whose businesses used air travel before the pandemic said that they will continue to need to do so. Two-thirds (67%) said that they would lose clients or contracts if their team was unable to fly.

Positive outlook, but barriers still remain in recovery path

While borders are being reopened and complex travel procedures dropped, there still remain barriers to recovery, as noted in the research. The UK business leaders polled as part of this research highlighted COVID-19 (41%) and the potential environmental impact of flying (26%) as being two of the most significant barriers. Three in ten (29%) noted that a more comfortable journey through the airport would make it more likely that their business increased its use of air travel.

Technology cannot replace the importance of face-to-face interaction

The research also shows that whilst there are many benefits to technological advances in working practices, current technology simply cannot replace the face-to-face interaction that business air travel facilitates. This

means that virtual working acts as a complement to the face-to-face interactions that business travel facilitates, rather than a replacement, it says.

The research offers good reasons to assume that demand for business air travel will increase in future with one in five (20%) UK business leaders expecting hybrid working to increase their use of business air travel in future. Interestingly, nearly half (47%) of those businesses who did not use air travel before the pandemic, say that they will be likely to over the next two years.

Rise in ‘bleisure’ travel supports business and traveller needs

The pandemic may also help facilitate the rise in businesses supporting the merging of corporate air travel and potential “add-on” time spent for leisure. As the dispersion of employees continues, and the UK’s sights fall on more and more new opportunities, this ‘Bleisure’ market is described in the report as being “an important growth area for UK businesses in terms of their global reach and attracting talent, and the UK overall as a chance to bring more business and investment to the UK.

London City and Belfast City hold UK’s highest share of business travellers

The WPI Economics report reveals that around one in five (19%) flights in and out of UK airports were taken by passengers on business travel with London City (46%) and Belfast City (44%) airports have a much higher proportion of business travellers. One in four (25%) travellers at the UK’s main international gateway London Heathrow is on business travel and one in five (20%) at Belfast International.

Share of business travellers, by UK airport

On average, according to the report, international business passengers spend GBP911 on retail, hospitality and leisure during their stay, considerably more than holidaymakers (average of GBP739).