The world’s biggest travel trade fair, ITB, has been taking place in Berlin, but with the industry under an economic cloud, the atmosphere’s been more funereal than festive.
Airlines and tour operators worldwide are suffering from the recession as companies spend less on business travel and tourists cut their budgets.
Most of the countries who welcome tourists – and some who rely heavily on them - are represented at the fair, but all are fearful of future prospects.
“Hard times lie ahead for the world’s travel industry,” said David Ruetz, chief organizer of ITB, noting that 2009 would be, at best, a year of stagnation for the industry. “In all likelihood the downturn will continue before things improve again. The signals for 2010 are not encouraging.”
Travel experts say people are economising by leaving booking to the very last minute and choosing different kinds of trips such as short getaways. The media here in the UK have been reporting a sudden surge in bookings of single-night stays - what have been dubbed ‘nano-breaks.’
But the experts say expensive luxury holidays and cruises seem to have bucked the trend because wealthier clients are less affected by the crisis.
by Andy Moreton
Figures recently released here in the UK show that air travel is declining for the first time in twenty years.
The number of passengers at eighteen leading British airports dropped by more than four per cent in September from 20.8 million to 19.9 million.
Large airports fared worst, with Heathrow down 3.6 per cent, Gatwick 6.8 and Manchester 6.7.
The figures suggest that the continuous growth in air travel since 1991 – encouraged by the popularity of low cost carriers – is coming to an end, along with cheap flights.
Any number of factors are driving leisure airline traffic down, not least the economic situation that’s beginning to affect family budgets. There are also environmental concerns and the well-publicised and off-putting problems with baggage handling and queues caused by extra security measures.
Companies are also re-evaluating business travel in light of the global downturn. According to Rebecca Ruiz of Forbes.com in New York, travel managers are considering everything from curtailing trips that aren’t revenue-generating to renegotiating contracts with hotels to include free Internet or gym access to asking employees of the same sex to share hotel rooms.
Environmental campaigners here in the UK say it all adds up to the government needing to look again at airport expansion, particularly a proposed new runway at Heathrow.
But the British Airports Authority says the outlook for aviation remains strong. “Historically, air traffic growth recovers from short-term shocks such as those currently being played out in the financial markets,” a spokesman said.
by Andy Moreton