2016 was not a great one for business travelers.
In Britain, the Brexit referendum and related collapse in the value of the pound made traveling abroad costly; transport strikes meant getting around was an ordeal for those who stayed put. In continental Europe, terror attacks targeted airports and tourist spots, while striking workers blockaded sea ports, grounded airlines and nobbled the air-traffic control system. The U.S., meanwhile, had to deal with mammoth security lines at airports and Asian travelers had to contend with a slowdown in China, the world’s biggest business-travel market.
Sadly, 2017 does not look like it is going to be any better. Indeed, things could get worse.
First of all there are oil prices. For travelers, the low cost of fuel was a rare bright spot in 2016. Cheaper flights meant more chance to chip away at the corporate-travel budget. Now the oil price is creeping back up, which means purse-strings may be tightened. Indeed, some airlines are already looking to offset rising costs by charging for drinks on long haul flights: farewell, then, to one of the last remaining creature comforts for business travelers. Expect generous loyalty schemes to come under pressure too, as well as further experiments with “last class” fares that lack even the basic perks of economy.
As well, the world will have to contend with policies proposed by President-elect Donald Trump. If Trump plows ahead with plans to ban immigration from parts of the world he deems dangerous, and also to crack down on illegal foreign workers, one side effect could be longer lines at airports as travelers’ documents are more closely scrutinized. If Trump builds a wall along the Mexican border, then southern checkpoints will be particularly clogged up.
It may not be all bad news. Technological innovation is continuing to make traveling easier, even as the global political environment threatens to slow things down. RFID tags on luggage, hotel keys stored on smartphones, apps that help make journeys seamless — expect progress to come thick and fast.
And not all airlines are trimming free services to maintain margins. In fact some, like Delta Air Lines, are even testing the reintroduction of complimentary meals.
Copyright 2013 The Economist Newspaper Limited, London. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.