Sara Turner speaks to Jo Stevenson, Accor's UK and Ireland sales director, global and national sales, about recovery in the business travel sector.
How are business travel sales performing in the UK for Accor?
Last year, 2010, was a really strong year of recovery and we've seen that continue in 2011 in the UK, but also on a global basis. If I look at some of the distribution channels like GDS, which is the main channel that the travel management companies (TMCs) are using for booking business travel, we've seen a really strong increase in 2011.
The key cities where we've really seen some huge recovery are London, New York, and Paris especially - because Accor is so huge in France. Getting availability mid-week now for business travel is becoming more of a challenge. We're trying to educate business travellers that it's about booking early, which obviously they don't like to do because they like to wait until the last minute.
The one area we've seen a decline is on public sector travel. I'm sure I'm not the only hotel group to say that. Being one of the largest business travel sectors in the UK, it's really had a profound effect on some of our provincial hotels, particularly in the Novotel brand. I think it's fair to say that all of our competitors will have seen that same decline in travel from public sector clients.
Is the private sector picking up the slack?
Absolutely. We've got a very big base of banking clients, which make up the biggest sector in the UK. There's been a very strong recovery there, and also on pharmaceutical and automotive, particularly on meetings and events, where we've seen a very strong return this year. In 2010 I still felt on the meetings and events side that there was a trend not to want to be seen on a meetings board. Now I think companies are feeling a lot more confident in spending on meetings and events, compared to last year. We've been delighted with the sales we've seen coming through this year, particularly on the GDS and also on our web sales.
Is business travel back to pre-recession 2008 levels yet?
Certainly in key cities - London, Paris, New York. In terms of the domestic market for the UK, because of the impact of the cuts in the public sector, there are still some holes in that, as we're seeing such significant drops.
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