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AMEX warns travel buyers face challenging year

AMEX Business Travel’s 2006 Global Business Travel Forecast indicates strong price increases in the global business travel industry and suggests a more challenging corporate travel buying market in the year ahead.

Published air and hotel prices worldwide are expected to rise considerably next year as business travel demand recovers in step with the global economy, outpacing the growth of supply in many markets.

Regions of strong business travel demand include Europe, North America and Japan, Asia-Pacific and Australia (JAPA), with significant traffic in the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic markets. Rates will increase as suppliers feel intense pressure to recover losses, soften the effect of skyrocketing fuel costs, and in some cases even grow profits.

While pricing pressure remains across the airline industry, continuing competition from low-cost carriers may limit airlines’ ability to raise fares in many markets.

AMEX Business Travel forecasts domestic/short-haul, economy class fares will rise by three to six percent and international/long-haul business fares increasing by three to five percent in 2006.  On the hotel side, room rates overall for mid-range properties will increase by one to three percent, while upper-range properties will increase by three to five percent.


“Corporate clients are traveling more, and increased globalization is leading to strong demand for long-haul air travel and hotel space at their travelers’ destination.  Whilst global fares are rising across the board there are significant variations by region and even the countries within those regions,” commented Matthew Davis, Director of Global Consulting at American Express.

Global Airline Highlights

Low-cost carriers will continue to impact the airline industry in 2006.  For example, in North America, typical business fares are expected to rise between five and eight percent for the year, propelled by economic recovery, increases in business and leisure travel and supplier pressure to recoup financial loss.  Airlines will continue to deal with acute pricing pressure from rising fuel costs, while simultaneously trying to stay competitive with low-cost carriers.

“Many traditional airlines have adopted the low-cost carrier business model; however, with the ever-increasing price of oil, many airlines could be forced to increase fares,” said Davis.

In Europe, significant new business opportunities in countries like Estonia, Latvia and Poland will remain key drivers behind increasing air travel in the region.  Attempts by the airlines to significantly increase fares in response to increased passenger traffic and rising oil prices, however, are likely to be dampened by the still burgeoning competition from low-cost carriers, depressing short-haul yields. Additionally, a bilateral treaty between the United Kingdom and India could triple direct scheduled services, recognizing the importance of business and leisure opportunities between these two countries.

Within JAPA, the impact of deregulation has fostered a growing number of low-cost carriers operating in the region, allowing the carriers to expand their networks and coordinate schedules across country lines.

In Latin America prices will likely begin to climb; however, North American and European carriers are expanding their service within the region, thereby increasing competition and decreasing the overall number of routes with single carrier operations.

Global Hotel Highlights

On the hotel front, the corporate negotiations environment will be more challenging this year than in recent years.

“Yesterday’s good rate may well be unobtainable tomorrow—leading to unpredictable hotel costs and, occasionally, an inability to obtain a suitable room. Unless a company locks in a negotiated rate with ‘last room availability,’ prices will likely rise in proportion to occupancy levels in a given city,” stated Davis.

In North America and Europe, corporate hotel rates are expected to rise in 2006, driven by rising occupancy rates as a result of increased demand with limited supply growth.  The situation is similar in Europe, where average client-contracted hotel rates are expected to increase by one to four percent next year.  However, rate increases in certain cities may exceed this range - in London, for example, some companies may face increases of 10 to 15 percent. The shift to dynamic pricing means that rates will reflect the peaks and valleys in demand by market.

In the JAPA region, growing business demand means hotel occupancy rates could grow considerably, particularly in India and China. That said, significant threats to demand lie in the possibility of an avian bird flu outbreak and tempering of demand via rising oil prices.

The Latin American region will likely experience an increase in capacity, especially among international and upper-range hotel chains.

“Based on the initial proposed hotel rates for our clients, it will be even more important for corporations to seek expert advice in travel planning, as expertise in this arena may pay back big dividends,” Davis continued.  “Without a well-maintained hotel program in place, companies can expect to pay significantly more for walk-up rates. It is clear that the outlook for 2006 will challenge the most experienced procurement managers.”

United States and Canada - Airfare/Hotel/Car Trends and Forecasts

In the United States, short-haul economy fares are expected to rise by five to eight percent and international business class fares should rise by two to six percent.  Increases in trans-Atlantic demand and an improved global business environment could push higher airline prices internationally. Furthering this trend is low-cost competition, particularly in key airport markets and experimentation with simpler fare structures may expand the impact of low-cost competition to other hub markets.

Watchers of the Canadian market can expect economy class fares to rise five to eight percent given the demise of jetsGo in 2005.  Canadian international fares will also closely reflect the United States’ pricing, growing two to five percent.  Since the demise of jetsGo, Canada is primarily a two airline country and will see more rational pricing in 2006.

Standard corporate rates for mid-range hotels are expected to increase by zero to three percent in the United States in 2006, while upper-range rates are forecasted to rise by two to five percent.  The industry has been experiencing this upward trend for the last 18 months. Overall impact of pricing increases on corporate travel budgets may be moderate if demand slows.

Within the car rental space, improved corporate demand and higher supplier costs are expected to place upward pressure on car rental rates.  American Express Business Travel expects car rental rates to increase by seven to eight percent in 2006.

Overall, increases in economy fares for domestic/short-haul travel are expected to range from zero percent to five percent.  Business class fares on long-haul/intercontinental routes will increase by approximately four to six percent.

Pricing trends will continue to be volatile and vary significantly by country market. Low-cost competitors continue to attract business traffic and depress short-haul yields, and continue to drive down pricing on specific domestic/short-haul and regional routes. With low-cost carrier penetration in Europe still averaging 24 percent, there is tremendous opportunity for these carriers to continue to divert market share from the traditional carriers.

Hotel pricing is expected to increase from one to three percent in mid-range and two to four percent in upper-range hotels across Europe next year, barring significant political or economic disturbances.  Key drivers of pricing pressure include a rebound of inbound, international travel, improved occupancy rates, hotel industry consolidation and a shift toward a more dynamic pricing model.

Overall, the improving economic conditions continue to spur increased capacity, both domestically and internationally in the LA&C region.  Generally, economy class domestic/short-haul fares will rise from two to five percent, and business class international/long-haul fares will rise by four to seven percent.  Additionally, the market is gradually becoming more competitive, although most routes still lack multiple carriers.

On the hotel front, published rates in most of the key business markets are expected to rise significantly during 2006.  Increased local and international travel to LA&C is expected to exert upward pressure on hotel pricing.
American Express is predicting a two to three percent increase in domestic/short-haul fares within key countries of the JAPA region in 2006.  On international/long-haul routes, product upgrades and service improvements could lead to a three to four percent increase. The proliferation of regional, low-cost carriers operating short-haul routes within Asia is expected to soften the upward pressure on pricing.

On the hotel side, American Express Business Travel forecasts a four to five percent increase in mid-range hotel rates across the JAPA region, and an eight to nine percent increase in upper-range hotel rates. The dynamic growth rates air and hotel will continue to have a predictable effect on hotels, especially in markets like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Shanghai and Beijing.