Home Business Travel Brexit turbulence is major concern for UK business travel industry, says Ken Symon

Brexit turbulence is major concern for UK business travel industry, says Ken Symon

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The business travel market, already facing challenges over safety concerns and demands for more flexibility, is gearing up for changes caused by the outcome of the Brexit negotiations between the UK and the remaining EU nations.

The outcome of the Brexit discussions between the UK and EU negotiating teams on the principle of free movement could markedly change the backdrop and economics of business travel.

While the final shape of this is, as with almost other aspects of the post-Brexit world, as yet an unknown, the suggestion that is emerging is that EU citizens will be free to travel to Britain and live under plans being drawn up by the Home Office.

Briefings suggest that the principle of freedom of movement will remain for those who want to visit or stay in the UK but a permits system will limit the number of people migrating to work.

Reports also suggest that the Home Office plan will mean no extra curbs on EU citizens travelling to Britain through other ports and airports.

Companies wanting to hire EU workers will have to apply for sponsorship permits with the UK government controlling the number of permits issued in any particular sector.

The outcome of these talks will determine issues to do with staffing of projects and may significantly affect major companies’ travel budgets.

American Express has warned that Brexit could potentially increase the costs of business travel for companies trading across the Continent.

The fall in the value of the pound against the euro and the dollar has already made trips comparatively more expensive.

An American Express spokesman said: “There are certain legislative areas controlled by the EU that may cease to apply in the UK and would consequently trigger cost increases.

“Mobile data roaming fees is the most obvious implication for business travellers. Elsewhere, it’s likely that new taxes and duties would be introduced as trading and regulatory agreements are dissolved and renegotiated.”

The spokesman said the effects may be greatest in the SME sector where many businesses are more sensitive to cost. “Higher prices would inhibit their ability to travel; lower transaction volumes would harm their capacity to negotiate preferred rates.

“Some mid-size companies may, therefore, be tempted to turn away from managed travel programmes in the belief that it would save money.”

Those seeking savings will find that flying from Scottish airports is less expensive than many other airports in the country, according to a recent study by currency exchange provider FairFX.

Comparing the cost of the cheapest same-day flights between 21 airports to six European destinations, the study found that Glasgow International Airport was the least expensive. The study also found it is consistently cheaper to fly to Europe from Scotland.

While that may be the case with travel to Europe, Virgin Trains say that more passengers between Scotland and London are choosing train over plane than at any time in the last 20 years.

It reported figures showing an 18 per cent year on year growth in Virgin Trains passengers travelling between Glasgow/Edinburgh and London in June. This, it said, left Virgin with a 33 per cent share of the air/rail market on the UK’s busiest domestic air routes beating a previous record set in 2014.

The figures show that overall air and rail travel between Scotland’s Central Belt and London is increasing but that carbon emissions are falling as more people choose the train.

David Horne, Virgin Trains managing director on the east coast route, said:

“When we took over the east coast route, we set ambitious plans to gain a 50 per cent market share between Edinburgh and London by 2023. These figures show an encouraging start to that journey and confirm an historic shift in travel patterns towards the train.”

There are new developments in ticket flexibility for both air and rail that are causing ripples in the business travel sector. Wizz Air, the Hungarian low cost airline which flies from two Scottish airports has just launched a service allowing passengers to “lock” their fare for a limited time.

For a fee of £3 per person, per segment of the journey travellers can use the fare lock to secure the fare for 48 hours without it being sold out.

The service, only available to buy online, applies to passengers booking one way or return flights booked more than seven days prior to departure or the date of the return flight. The service creates a fixed price regardless of the flight, period or bundle chosen. But beware if you want someone to do a meeting in your place: once the fee is paid, the names and number of passengers cannot be changed.

George Michalopoulos, Wizz Air’s chief commercial officer said: “The new service is a great tool for taking the stress element out of the booking process, allowing customers 48 hours to finalise their purchase.”

The airline’s routes from Scotland include flights from Glasgow to Warsaw, Gdansk, Lublin and Katowice in Poland, and Budapest and Bucharest. It also has routes to and from Aberdeen to Gdansk and Warsaw.

  • Glasgow Airport, which recently marked another record month for passengers in July, is continuing to expand its range of routes to cities likely to be of interest to business travellers.
  • Amanda McMillan, managing director of Glasgow Airport, said: “Looking ahead, Ryanair will introduce a number of new winter services in September and October to Frankfurt, Krakow and Madrid, while Lufthansa will also increase the current Munich service from one flight per week to four, ensuring we enter the second half of the year in a position of strength.”
  • Edinburgh Airport has launched 19 new international routes in 2017 including Porto with Ryanair, Bilbao with easyJet, Greece’s second major economic city Thesaloniki with Jet2, Palma with BA, Athens with Aegean and New York Providence and Connecticut with Norwegian.
  • Virgin Rail has made a few changes recently aimed at meeting this new demand for more flexible travel. Virgin has introduced ‘Advance Purchase on the Day’ offering customers significant savings on the day of travel by buying advance fares for specific trains as opposed to the more expensive ‘walk-up’ tickets which can be used on any train.

For example an advance fare bought on the day for travel between Edinburgh and London on Virgin Trains East Coast route could cost £69, saving customers 50 per cent on the price of an off-peak single which is £137.

This means that customers travelling between Glasgow and London could collectively save £4.8m with a one-way ticket on the day costing £65, half the price of an off-peak single which costs £136.60.

Virgin recently introduced 45 additional Edinburgh-London services a week, offering a half-hourly timetable through most of the day, providing much more flexibility to business travellers who are unsure when meetings will end and just want to turn up and go.

Travellers with Virgin can get a flexible single-leg walk-up one way and a much cheaper advance ticket in the other direction. This is something that will be particularly of interest to Scottish MPs whose return journey to London depends when votes are being held at Westminster as well as business people when the timing of meetings on a given day is unclear.

A spokesperson for Virgin Trains said: “Business travellers require far more flexibility, both in the timing of their journeys and their ability to get the cheapest deals. Introducing advance purchases on the day of travel is a huge step forward for us in that regard.

“It enables customers to make on-the-day decisions about which train to catch without having to pay the premium for our most flexible ‘anytime’ fares. For someone travelling back from a meeting in London to Edinburgh or Glasgow, this could save nearly £70 per journey.

Our single-leg pricing pilot is another example of where we’re pioneering new approaches to setting fares, rather than relying on outdated fare regulations. This will make it much cheaper to buy a ticket for a one-way journey, leaving the customer with the freedom to choose how they travel on their return leg.

At the moment, a regulated single-leg journey is only £1 cheaper than a return journey, which doesn’t provide the level of flexibility the modern business traveller needs.”

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