The Travel Industry Association of America`s (TIA) latest consumer poll, the Air Travel Survey, examines the possible reasons for the continued declines in air travel. Sponsored by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the survey was based on a representative sample of 4,000 travelers who have traveled by air at least once in the past year.
Thirty percent of all air business travelers reported traveling less by air in the past 12 months, as compared to only 21 percent who said they traveled more. Despite the decrease in air travel in the past year, intentions are relatively strong for 2003, with 29 percent of business travelers planning on traveling more by air next year and 55 percent saying they will travel the same amount. Eighty percent of leisure air travelers say they traveled the same amount or more in the past year. When asked about 2003, only 14 percent of leisure travelers said they would travel less or not at all by air.
Nearly 80 percent of all air business travelers say their company has one or more business travel policies in place. One-third said that one or more of these policies were implemented in just the past year. Examples of these new restrictions include limiting the class of air service that can be used (14%), requiring U.S.-only travel (31%), limiting travel per diems (19%), restricting the number of employees traveling (25%), and requiring/recommending they drive instead of fly (34%). Other new policies include restricting the number of trips taken (39%), restricting trip duration (25%), and restricting class of hotel (14%).
“The question arises as to whether the industry is seeing a major sea change in business travel patterns or whether this is just another short-term, cyclical downturn,” remarked Dr. Suzanne Cook, senior vice president of research for the Travel Industry Association of America. “Many companies have learned to do business in a different way and are taking a much more strategic approach to travel, in some cases calculating a return on investment to determine whether a trip should be taken or not. I do, however, think that many business travelers will return to the skies when times get better.”
The improvement in online business communications has accelerated the use of technology as an alternative to taking business trips. Teleconferencing was used by 42 percent of all air business travelers in the past year as a substitute for taking a business trip. Videoconferencing and webcasting or webconferencing were used in place of travel by 17 percent and 15 percent of business travelers, respectively. The usage of these alternative technologies rises with the frequency of travel. One-quarter of frequent air travelers (8+ trips per year), replaced some of their trips with technology, compared to only about 15 percent of infrequent travelers. While two-thirds of all air business travelers feel these technologies are more efficient in terms of the time and money spent on travel, only 20 percent feel they are more effective.
Business travelers say slower business conditions, lean travel budgets, the uncertain economy and the high cost of travel have generated a lesser need for travel. For leisure travelers, one-third said economic and price concerns were major factors in not flying. Second in importance was the lack of time or ability to travel as much by air as in the previous year, as reported by 23 percent of leisure travelers.
Business travelers are turning to the Internet for the best airline ticket price, with almost half of all business air travelers personally purchasing their ticket online at least once in the past year. Underscoring the impact of the Internet on business travel habits is the fact that 35 percent of those travelers say they plan on using the Internet much more in the next year to book business flights. And nearly one-third of those who did not use the Internet to personally book a flight in the past year say they plan on doing so next year.
Underscoring consumers’ concerns about their personal or business finances, only 16 percent of business and leisure air travelers say they are satisfied with the current cost of air travel, an interesting finding considering that airfares are now at their lowest level since 1988.
TIA is the national, non-profit organization representing all components of the $537 billion travel industry. TIA`s mission is to represent the whole of the U.S. travel industry to promote and facilitate increased travel to and within the United States.