Europeans are traveling on business again, as executives hit the road and airlines add flights to key destinations.
The continent, one of the largest aviation markets in the world, has been slower than the United States and China to return to the skies. A rapid vaccination campaign and the roll-out of a vaccination passport program have lifted vacation travel this summer. Now, business travel is also rebounding.
Businesses are also flying to the United States again, although the spread of the Delta variant and delays in reopening offices have hampered this recovery.
In September, business travel to Europe was 49% of the 2019 level, compared to 42% in the United States, according to travel analysis firm ForwardKeys. The previous month, business travel to Europe had reached 50.9% of pre-pandemic levels compared to 50.7% in the United States – the first time since February that Europe had led and the sixth increase consecutive monthly for the region.
EU leaders say they are encouraged by the limited number of infections across the continent in recent months and the introduction of the European Union’s digital Covid certificate, which certifies that a person has been vaccinated, has recently tested negative or recovered from Covid-19.
“With the certificate I am much more confident that traveling is safe,” said Mario Isola, Formula 1 director for tire manufacturer Pirelli SpA. “Now we also know what works and what does not with the virus.”
Yet Mr Isola, who was on the road 200 days a year before the pandemic, has cut his travel days by around 10%.
The pickup is encouraging for transport companies, after the proliferation of video conferencing and continued travel restrictions have raised questions about how quickly business travel can recover and whether it will ever return to the record set in 2019 .
Business travel is more profitable than leisure bookings for most airlines, as late bookings often mean higher fares, while passengers are more likely to purchase upgrades like extra legroom. . But it also requires a larger investment, with business travelers wanting multiple daily connections and being confident that flights will not be canceled in the short term, such as at the start of the pandemic.
At London City Airport, a favorite with business travelers due to its proximity to the two financial districts of the British capital, several airlines are stepping up their operations. Deutsche Lufthansa AG
and Swiss Air Lines restarted flights at the airport early last month, while British Airways and Dutch national carrier KLM added new routes.
“We are seeing this recovery,” said Robert Sinclair, general manager of London City Airport, in an interview. The airport in September experienced its strongest week of traffic since the start of the pandemic, he added. Thirteen of its 15 busiest lines in 2019 are operational again.
In June, Alberto Dalmasso, CEO and co-founder of Italian mobile payment startup Satispay SpA, made his first business trip since the Covid-19 strike. During the pandemic, he learned to lead his team of 165 people in three countries and to attract investors while making minimal travel. As infections and deaths increased in Italy at the end of last year, he secured the biggest funding round the company has ever done without meeting its new investors in person.
“I say no to a lot of trips I would have taken in the past, but there are still some you have to do,” said Mr Dalmasso.
JPMorgan Chase & Co., which uses its employee travel data as a proxy for global business travel, said its intra-European flights in September hit their highest level since the start of the pandemic . The bank expects another leap this month after the easing of travel restrictions in the UK, where most of its European employees are based.
“Things are moving in the right direction for us after the miserable times we’ve been through,” said Alain Chisari, Lufthansa’s vice president of sales for Europe, Middle East and Africa. He said he believed the recovery would be faster than others had anticipated, with corporate clients scrambling to beat their competitors to see potential customers.
Business travelers are also returning to train services like Eurostar, which operates a high-speed route directly connecting cities like London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. CEO Jacques Damas said corporate bookings have increased in recent weeks and he expects further growth in the coming months as governments ease travel restrictions. Eurostar is offering more services to provide more flexibility for business travelers and increases capacity as demand increases.
After a slow start, most countries in Western Europe have overtaken the United States in immunization. In France and Italy, 75% of the entire population has received at least one injection of the vaccine, while the figure rises to over 70% for the United Kingdom In the United States, it is about 65%.
The European return of business travel comes as the recovery in the United States is disrupted by the Delta variant. At the start of the summer, 61% of U.S. companies had employees taking non-essential domestic business travel, according to a survey by the Global Business Travel Association. Of the remainder, two-thirds planned to resume their domestic travel within three months. By August, this percentage had fallen to 28%.
American Airlines Group Inc.,
Delta Airlines Inc.
and United Airlines Holdings Inc.
all said that the Delta variant scrambled the recovery.
“We really saw some really big glimmers of hope in July and where we were going to be in August,” United Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella said last month. “But it’s all been delayed … probably three to four months, more likely early next year at this point.”
—Alison Sider contributed to this article.
Corrections and amplifications
In September, domestic business travel to the United States was 42% of the corresponding month’s level in 2019, according to ForwardKeys. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated it was 43%. (Corrected October 12)
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