Friday, June 14, 2024

Demand for UK business flights has fallen by nearly a third since 2019

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London City Airport revealed in April that more than half of its passengers were now leisure.

Demand for business travel to and from the UK has fallen by nearly a third since before the pandemic, amid an increase in home working and environmental backlash against the world’s biggest companies.

According to an analysis from the New Economics Foundation (NEF), flights for business purposes fell by 29 per cent last year compared with 2019.

NEF, which examined data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), said that some 3.9m fewer trips were made over the period as big corporations dramatically cut spending on air travel.

In total, businesses shelled out around £2.9bn less on air travel in 2023 compared with 2019, a 22 per cent decrease.

The surge in home working and increasing use of platforms like Zoom and Teams for video conferencing has reshaped the relationship between major companies and business flying.

While demand for holiday trips rebounded dramatically from Covid-era lows last year, the more chequered recovery of corporate travel has been a concern of senior airline executives.

The boss of the IAG, the airline conglomerate which owns British Airways, Iberia and Vueling, warned last summer that things were “not improving” and that booking volumes had “plateaued,” even as the group hauled in record profit on resurgent leisure demand.

London City Airport, long regarded as the UK’s busiest business travel hub, revealed in April more than half its passengers were now travelling for leisure for the first time.

Data has suggested corporate travel was on a downward trajectory even before the pandemic. Despite huge growth in passenger numbers between 2015 and 2019, the market-share of business passengers in 2022 was half of what it was a decade prior.

It comes as big corporates react to growing environmental scrutiny by introducing stringent targets for carbon emissions from travel and transport.

Air travel emissions at KPMG UK fell around 80 per cent between 2018 and 2022, while its big four counterpart EY has brought in measures to cut carbon emissions from air travel by 36 per cent by 2025. In the US, professional services giant Marsh Mclennan has said it will rely on virtual meetings more.

Alex Chapman, senior economist at the New Economics Foundation, said: “Business use of air travel peaked in 2007 and has fallen further since the pandemic.

“Today, growth causes major damage to our climate while benefiting only a tiny group of airport owners and wealthy frequent flyers.  

“The next UK government should take a fresh look at its approach to travel and tourism, and focus on re-invigorating the UK’s neglected domestic tourism economy and coastal areas and the zero-carbon public transport network which will support them.” 

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