After an uneven 2016 that saw only limited increases in overall pricing, the business travel outlook for next year looks to be similarly subdued, with flat to moderate rate increases expected globally across air, hotel and ground transportation, according to Global Business Travel Forecast 2017 by American Express Global Business Travel.
The continued slowdown of the Chinese economy and depressed oil prices, the United Kingdom’s impending departure from the European Union, growing populist politics and increased security concerns in many countries have together created a higher level of uncertainty in the global marketplace. It remains to be seen how this will impact business travel over the next year.
Additional global highlights include:
Air: Global demand for air travel remains at a record high; persistently low fuel prices and strong competition will help keep airline fares in check.
Hotel: Hotel performance will improve moderately and prices will remain flat in most regions with the exception of Latin America, where rates will decline slightly, and Asia Pacific, where the impact varies greatly by country.
Ground: Ground transportation has undoubtedly felt the impact of new industry players and rates should remain flat as capacity continues to exceed demand.
Rodolfo Elizondo, Vice President and Head of Global Business Consulting at American Express Global Business Travel (GBT), believes that in this period of political and economic uncertainty, companies and business leaders will welcome news that the cost of business travel may, at worst, endure only modest increases.
“Travel managers should focus on the things they can control, like demand management, compliance and traveler satisfaction to reduce risk and increase savings,” he said.
Airfares will stay flat across much of the Asia Pacific region, with slight increases depending on route and fare class. Despite high demand and relative political stability, overcapacity is keeping rates in check. Travel prices are heavily driven by leisure demand from China, and India has emerged as the fastest growing industry in the region, with capacity just keeping pace with demand.
Diverse economic conditions will cause hotel rates to vary greatly depending on the country in 2017. China’s growing middle class and India’s strengthening economy are contributing to a strong increase in demand, that will largely be offset by similar increases in inventory, controlling rate increases. In areas where new inventory is not being added, such as Sydney or Tokyo, rates are expected to rise.
Many countries within the Asia Pacific region have experienced the growth of ride-sharing both from homegrown companies and local investment by international players. This is especially true in India and China. Australia’s car rental industry remains the largest in the region and rates are expected to remain flat as increased demand from visitors taking advantage of the weak Australian Dollar offset ongoing weakness in the mining sector.
In North America, overcapacity and fierce competition between legacy carriers and low-cost carriers on heavily traveled routes are leading to anticipated fare decreases. However, lower fares will be offset by higher ancillary fees as airlines continue to look for new sources of revenue. In Latin America, moderate decreases are expected across Brazil and Argentina due to overcapacity, political turmoil and declining currency values while the stronger economic performance of Chile and Mexico may lead to fare increases.
With significant new supply coming online in the United States, only moderate increases are projected, as inventory remains steady with demand. Rates will increase slightly in most of Canada due to an increase in demand linked to the weak Canadian dollar. Despite some bright spots in Colombia and Mexico, demand in Latin America remains low and rates are expected to decline slightly overall. Overall, the presence of the Zika virus has not impacted the number of tourists going to the region in 2016, and the same is expected for 2017.
In the United States, car rental rates for corporate travelers will remain flat in 2017 due to excessive fleet sizes and strong competition among the major suppliers. Following the lead of airlines and hotels, car rental companies are expected to increasingly focus on ancillary offerings to drive profits.
As ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft continue to invest in their corporate travel offering, taxi and car services have felt the impact, spurring investments in mobile and the user experience to attract travelers back. A softening of rates is also expected in Canada, and an influx of new players and capacity in Latin America is holding prices in check.
In Europe, airlines continue to face significant headwinds in the form of lackluster economic performance, security concerns, long-haul pressure from Gulf carriers and the growing presence of low-cost carriers on short-haul routes. With low-cost carriers looking to continue their aggressive expansion efforts in 2017, airfares will stay level with 2016. In the U.K., the currency devaluation following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (referred to as Brexit) has had the short-term effect of making outbound travel from the U.K. more expensive. However, the medium to long term impact of Brexit on business travel will not be known until the U.K. government starts negotiations with the EU, which are expected to begin in Q2.
Political and economic uncertainties in Europe are flattening hotel demand but the overall lack of new supply should help sustain mild rate increases. Despite speculation that the U.K. would see prices rise on higher demand from value-seeking tourists and domestic vacationers forced to stay at home, rates are staying level and should remain so through 2017. In European countries where demand growth is strong, such as in Ireland or Russia, price increases should be similarly robust. By contrast, the strong demand experienced in Dubai and Abu Dhabi should result in only minimal price increases given the significant amount of new construction in those cities.
Travelers renting cars in Europe are increasingly looking for options with a lower environmental impact, such as hybrid and electric vehicles. While suppliers are prepared to increase their fleets in this respect, they will only do so once the infrastructure to support it becomes available. Rates should rise only marginally across all regions in Europe as economic growth is tempered by strong competition among car rental companies looking to expand their regional footprints.