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The'doomed' trade that is still booming
[June 26, 2006]

The'doomed' trade that is still booming

(The Mail on Sunday Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) BUSINESS travel ought to be on its last legs by now. For decades we have been told that teleconferencing, videophones and other wonders would put paid to the ritual criss-crossing of the globe by business people.

But according to a survey from the Guild of Travel Management Companies, the number of business flights during the first nine months of last year was up 7.9 per cent, while railway journeys rose 6.9 per cent. Hotel stays were up a whopping 24.7 per cent.

Shouldn't these people be tied to their work stations teleconferencing with the other side of the world?

In search of enlightenment, we turn to the 2005-2006 business travel survey of an outfit synonymous with the raffish charm of intercontinental commercial voyaging in the postwar years - Barclaycard.

It seems 45 per cent of business travellers said they put in more miles in 2005-2006 than in the previous financial year.

Overall, there was a small decline in the average number of miles travelled each month - down from 642 the previous year to 608.5.

But this has to be set against an explosion in the miles-per-month figure of 32 per cent since 1996/1997 - in other words, during the ten years coinciding with the progression of email, the mobile phone and various online services.

So business people are determined to keep on the move, whatever the technological incentives to stay at home.

Presumably, the price for clocking up the extra miles is an end to the luxury standards of yesteryear and a shift to the no-frills sector.

Well, not exactly. According to Barclaycard, low-cost air travel is not expected to have increased further during 2005/2006.

To be fair, this stabilisation point is a solid 74 per cent of all business travellers, suggesting a taste for austerity among the bedrock of our business sector.

But Barclaycard speaks about 'the growing popularity of business class travel - particularly for long-haul flights - and the perceived disadvantages associated with low-cost' such as airports 'not centrally located', 'poor standard of service' and flights 'often delayed'.

The Guild, meanwhile, believes 'the disproportionately high growth in hotel bookings shows that business travellers are packing more into each trip, following multiple business leads in the course of one journey'.

In short, a remarkable survival story for the supposedly doomed business trip. But then, as Barclaycard notes: 'More than three quarters of business travellers - 78 per cent - enjoy travelling for business.'

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