Business Travel Is Slowly Bouncing Back

June 24, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Worries in the travel world have led to a sharp decline in corporate travel sales, but with airline enticements now in force, local travel agencies are seeing a slow rise in travel business.

Several travel agencies related to the Business Journal seeing nearly a 48 percent decline in corporate travel this autumn, due in large part to the attacks on American and United airlines.

The decline in travelers, however, has caused airlines and hotels to become less stringent in their travel and lodging conditions, and more accommodating for those who are attempting to keep a regular travel schedule.

Nonetheless, C.J. Sweetman, manager of the Grand Rapids office of MTA Travel, said that many corporations are putting things on hold.

“We have seen that businesses have simply stopped travel and are waiting for a better time to send employees up in the air,” Sweetman said.

Other corporations also are putting a temporary freeze on business travel.

“One of our largest clients put a freeze on all travel and wouldn’t let any employee make the decision on their own, without an OK from the CEO,” said Mary Ann Smith, corporate agent for Antor Travel Agency.

“Many people that travel for business are simply opting not to go unless it is absolutely necessary,” added Kris Bruinslot, travel specialist for Travel Intrigue.

For some, the two-hour check-in and check-out time was too much to handle.

“Some of our corporations were researching how long it would take for employees to check bags and get on the plane, and do the same on the return,” Smith said.

“When they found out it was two hours each way, they opted to drive if it was only a day’s travel. Two hours each way cuts down on four hours of travel time, and that is a lot to give up for some clients.”

As a result of hesitancy in travel and in some cases, a stop in travel, the airlines have tried to be more accommodating to those corporate travelers. “There is definitely a rates advantage,” Sweetman said. “There has been a 15 to 20 percent decrease in airline fares across the board.”

Another sweetener has been the drop of Saturday night stay requirements for corporate travelers. “Most stays for leisure travelers required a Saturday night stay at your destination,” Smith said.

Historically, corporate travel bills have totaled out a lot higher than leisure travel bills and in most cases that was due to the fact that a Saturday night stay was out of the question.

“We are talking about travelers that are going for a couple of days during the week, not staying for a week and often not even traveling on the weekend,” she added. “With the Saturday stay being lifted recently, corporate travel members have been able to receive more favorable fares.”

Smith said the recent change also has made certain fares available to corporate travelers that may have not been available before.

Another change has been in the area of advanced purchases. “Recently, advanced purchases have been limited where a corporate traveler that may have in the past purchased a ticket three to four weeks in advance is now only purchasing three to four days in advance,” Bruinslot said.

While a majority of the decline occurred in September and October, travel agencies are now seeing a slow rise in corporate travel sales.

“It is coming back, but very slowly,” said Sweetman.

Smith echoed her in saying that with restrictions being lifted and lines getting shorter when checking in and out, corporate travelers are slowly getting back in the air.

A travel consultant for Muskegon County Airport, Diane Hoofman — a 16-year-veteran of the travel agency business — said some of her former colleagues think it’s a bit difficult to say why travel has slowed.

“They’re not sure whether it’s because of fear of terrorism in the air, or because of a general slowdown in business.”

Hoofman, who admits her job is to be upbeat about air travel, said she and her acquaintances in the business believe the pace of air travel is slowly picking up again. In her own case, the fear of air terrorism does not affect her flight plans.

“My thought is that the next attack will come in some form other than hijacking.”

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