Emirates CEO: Business Travel Won’t Be Killed By COVID-19

Emirates President, Sir Tim Clark, has said this week that business travel won’t be killed by COVID-19. While the aviation industry is expecting a long recovery, Clark said that once a vaccine becomes available, life will go back to normal very rapidly.

Emirates plans to slowly start rebuilding its network over the summer. Photo: Simple Flying

Business travel demand will resume

Business travel around the world has come to a halt as travel restrictions have required companies to hold meetings online. This shift to virtual meetings has led some to ask if this will be the new norm for networking or if business travel will resume in the same capacity as before the pandemic.

While many think that business travel will alter significantly, Sir Tim Clark doesn’t subscribe to this view. In a webinar hosted by Aviation Week, he talked about how he doesn’t think that in the long-term business travel will change that much. Clark said,

“If this vaccine kicks in and we do get, dare I say, a cure to this problem, life will go back very rapidly to normal. I don’t subscribe to the view that it’s all going to change. I don’t subscribe to the view that there’s going to be a new world order. I’m really sorry to disagree with people about that.”

The advancement in technology has meant that virtual meetings can now be held securely online, removing the need for travel. However, videoconferencing has been around since the early 1990s, and yet the demand for business-related travel has continued to increase. There have been several events over the last ten years that have resulted in decreased travel, but Clark said that in the long-term, the aviation industry had bounced back.

“I know what we are and how we reacted to some of the big traumas in the last 10 or 15 years, be it 911 or the Gulf war or the ash cloud… all these kinds of things. The resilience of mankind and its aspirations are quite incredible.” 

Surveys suggest that passengers will only travel if safety measures are in place. Photo: Getty Images

Travelers need to feel safe

As travel restrictions begin to ease, it is predicted there will be a resurgence of business activity. A recent survey by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) found that 54% of the 1705 companies it questioned were considering resuming all travel soon. These results are encouraging, but to entice passengers to resume air travel, airlines will need to consider the steps it needs to take to reassure them of their safety on board.

The GBTA found that there were a number of procedures that would make companies feel more inclined to start resuming business travel. These included:

  • Increasing cleaning and sanitization protocols
  • Requiring passengers and staff to wear masks
  • Keeping the middle seat empty
  • Providing hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes

While most of these protocols are already in place as travel bans begin to be lifted, it is clear that the way we travel could be altered for some time to come.

Emirates A380
Emirates is the world’s largest A380 operator, and the top-five largest airline in terms of passenger and freight ton-miles flown. Photo: Emirates

Recovery could be several years away

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused considerable damage to the aviation industry, and not every airline is expected to make it through the current pandemic. For those that do, recovery is predicted to take some time.

Emirates ceased all of its passenger operations on March 25th. The carrier has been able to weather the storm by offering some repatriation flights and increasing its transport of cargo. All of its Airbus A380s have been grounded, but the airline has been able to solve some of its cash flow problems by using a large part of its Boeing 777 fleet in cargo flights.

While Sir Tim Clark remains optimistic that business will begin to improve gradually during 2021, he suggests that full recovery could be several years away and driven by the availability of a vaccine.

Do you travel for business? Will you be resuming travel once restrictions ease? Let us know in the comments.

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