Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive Shai Weiss believes business travel forecasts are still very unclear to all airlines, because of the pandemic’s unpredictable nature and the consequent measures taken by governments to curb the spread of the virus.
Speaking on a panel at London’s World Aviation Festival today, Weiss stated that despite seeing a recovery of business travel, forecasts are still inherently unreliable.
“We are already 30 per cent booked on business travel into the summer of next year versus versus where [demand] was in 2019,” he said. “But the truth is every time we predict something, something comes up.”
Weiss also added that business day travel is likely to be cut down, as travellers are more cautious when it comes to time allocation, rather than pandemic-induced health hazards.
“We have an event with CEOs coming from the Virgin Group who simply cannot afford to come to the UK and spend two days with uncertainty on the PCR test for a one-day event and then fly back to the US,” he added.
Weiss’s comments echo what was already said by the carrier’s chief commercial officer Juha Jarvinen.
Speaking in September at the Business Travel Association conference in Liverpool, Jarvinen said business travel will not go back to pre-pandemic levels before 2024.
“It’s small and medium enterprises that are coming back first,” he said. “They’re agile and need to get deals done. Larger corporates will be later and internal meetings travel will be last of all.
“Travel will be rationalised – people will invest in long-haul travel and put more meetings together.”
Asked on the same panel about the future of business travel, Alex Cruz – British Airways’ former chairman and chief executive – attributed the change in business travel patterns not to the pandemic but mainly to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability pledges.
“I don’t believe the permanent impact of business travel will be Covid or pandemic-related, but it will be because of CSR and sustainability measure that corporations will take and adopt, at least for a while,” Cruz said. “The Covid-related business recovery will happen faster than what it looks like but there will be some permanent impact impact from a sustainability perspective.”