The Chief Commercial Officer at Virgin Atlantic has shared some of his thoughts on the short-term future of aviation, saying that business travel will take the longest to recover post-pandemic. Speaking on June 4th, Juha Jarvinen said that though he was forecasting some travel would bounce back by 2021; it would be anything other than business.
Forecasts on the future of travel
Despite the lengthy draw out of the coronavirus and rigorous research to find out more about it, there is still so much uncertainty surrounding it. Its unpredictability has left many sectors of the economy in stressful situations, none more so that the aviation industry.
In the UK, airlines have been hampered by a new government regulation that requires incoming travelers to undertake 14 days quarantine on arrival. The move, while designed for safety, has had a significant financial impact on the UK’s airlines. They are unsure when they can return to normal.
Over the past few months, there have been improvements in international traffic figures. They’re nowhere near where they were before, but it seems the worst of the travel demand slump is now behind us. While some airlines enjoy increased revenues, there is a general train of thought that says air traffic will take a long time to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
Virgin Atlantic shared its thoughts on a return to normalcy via a webinar for Future Travel Experience on June 4th. On the call, the Chief Commercial Officer at Virgin Juha Jarvinen said that it would take a while for recovery.
Business travel will return last
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that it won’t be until 2023 that air traffic demand returns to 2019 levels. By 2024, the airline industry will see some normalcy and growth. This is a forecast that Virgin Atlantic accepts. However, it believes that next year there will be some peaks in ticket sales.
Virgin Atlantic did not share which sectors it thinks will return first. However, it did issue a word of warning for business sales. In the Future Travel Experience webinar, Juha Jarvinen said,
“It is the business traffic that we forecast is going to take longer. Of course, some of the business traffic may not return for the foreseeable future.”
It believes that with the normalization of video conferencing, regional or overseas business travel will simply become an unnecessary expense. However, Virgin Atlantic did not say that the need for business travel would die out completely.
Will business travel return?
There is a lot of debate surrounding whether business travel will return. Some, like Virgin, say that it will recover slowly while others are adamant that it will never regain traction. So, who’s right?
Those who say that business travel will not return are primarily concerned with the practice of social distancing. Big meetings and trade conferences will become less frequent, therefore necessitating fewer business trips. This practice will go on for as long as it takes for everyone to receive a vaccination, which currently still looks to be years off. While the coronavirus is still a risk, it might smarter for companies not to send their employees abroad. What happens if someone gets sick on a work trip? Where does the onus lie?
Despite these concerns, business travel is an essential part of some jobs. When those employees can travel again, they will. However, that category of travelers may be a minority. Furthermore, once a vaccine is developed, there is no reason why business travel will not bounce back.
All in all, Virgin’s stance looks to be accurate. Business travel will return steadily; however, it’s undeniable that for some, it will not be as crucial as it once was.
What do you think? Share your views in the comments.