The Business of Travel

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The Official Blog of the Global Business Travel Association


Silence is Golden

Earlier this week, GBTA filed comments with the Department of Transportation (DOT) asking for a ban on cell phone voice calls during flights. Aside from the safety and security implications, you must consider the practical concerns if this were allowed. I can just imagine sitting in a middle seat while a loud talker to my left shared all her business dealings and the man on my right argued with a family member.

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Our comments were a reflection of the overwhelmingly negative feedback from our GBTA membership. The consensus was the use of mobile wireless devices for voice is detrimental to business travelers and should be banned between the time the aircraft door is closed and the aircraft lands.

The DOT should not add to plight of the business traveler. After all, silence is golden.


Business Travel is an Economic Force

Yesterday the GBTA Foundation released a study showing the economic impact of business travel on the U.S. economy. The numbers speak for themselves demonstrating that business travel is in fact a major economic driver.

Of course the value of business travel comes as no surprise to us and I am guessing, you. There really is no substitute for face-to-face and hand-shake interactions when it comes to getting business done, and while road warriors are out on the road they are spending hundreds of billions on hotels, airports and restaurants.

According to the study, business travel was responsible for about 3 percent of U.S. GDP in 2012 ($491 billion), and for every 1 percent increase in business travel spending, the U.S. economy gains an additional 71,000 jobs, nearly $5 billion in GDP, $3 billion in wages and $1.2 billion in tax collections.

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The Co-Chairs of the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus agree on the importance of business travel to the economy:

“Business travel is an important aspect of travel and tourism,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL). “As the Global Business Travel Association’s study notes, nearly $500 billion was contributed to the U.S. economy by business travel alone in 2012. That same year, Florida’s tourism industry supported over one million employees and contributed over $51 billion to Florida’s economy. Business travel and the tourism industries are a crux of economic vitality across the country, and especially in states like Florida. The bottom line is that both international travel to the United States and domestic travel within our nation create jobs. As Co-Chair of the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus, I will continue to work to foster an economic climate that promotes travel and economic vitality.”

“Electronic communication is important to our economy but it cannot completely replace the personal connection formed by meeting face to face,” said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif. and co-chair of the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus. “Business travelers play an important role in building our economy beyond just the deals they strike with a hand shake. Their time on the road supports the entire travel industry; injecting needed dollars into local businesses and creating jobs in every community across the United States.”

We will be distributing this message on Capitol Hill. I hope you will join us!


White House Business Council Briefing on Travel & Tourism

Last week I participated in the White House Business Council briefing on travel and tourism in the U.S. Administration officials gave an update on the economy and discussed how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other Agencies work to promote travel and tourism from, to and within the United States. The meeting was an opportunity for the industry to be face to face with administration officials (business travel professionals understand how important that is!) and share encouragement and concerns on policies effecting travel.

The day started in typical DC fashion - with no parking available near the White House - I called a cab. It was late and therefore I was behind schedule. One day I will remember what my friends who work for the limousine association tell me – call for a black car! Arriving late for a meeting at the White House/Old Executive Building is not a good feeling. To make matters worse the security process is complicated and a little confusing even to a pro. Waiting in line to check our badges and ID, I went to the first officer that was available. He told me he couldn't help me. Confused I stepped back in line. He then called me back up and said I had to say “Go Blue.” I realized I was wearing my Ohio State tie since they were playing at noon, and he was clearly a fan of my school’s biggest rival. I said absolutely not, he jokingly said he would arrest me and then waived me through.

The meeting began with a briefing from David Langdon, Senior Policy Advisor for Economics and Statistics, Department of Commerce. He covered the impact travel has had on the economy. U.S travel and tourism generated $1.5 trillion in economic output and created 7.8 million jobs. It is heartening to know that Administration officials acknowledge the impact travel has on the overall economy. The next speakers were those of most interest to me, Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole and Acting Deputy Commissioner Kevin McAleenan of Customs and Border Protection. Photo Credit: Business Forward

Photo Credit: Business Forward

The Deputy Secretary vowed to make DHS more open, engaged and transparent. He proposed DHS utilize industry knowledge through the “Shared Executive” program. This prompted the audience to come up with several ideas from marketing, to line management to better interaction with incoming travelers.

Administrator Pistole spoke at length on TSA’s PreCheck program. This was prompted by the moderator saying he had just learned of it, enrolled and loved it. I am still astounded that a DC insider is just finding out about the program. DHS clearly needs private industry marketing advice! Administrator Pistole said that 100,000 people have signed up with the PreCheck Application and more than 90 million travelers have gone through some sort of expedited screening. However, he knows that isn't enough and is pushing his team to expand and do better.

The question on our minds, which we asked because we are concerned it is hurting the PreCheck enrollment,  was how long will managed inclusion continue (the practice of observing travelers behavior and allowing those who appear to not be a threat into the PreCheck lanes ). The Administrator was a little cagey in the response, but the answer seems to be that as enrollment for PreCheck increases, then managed inclusion will decrease.

Acting Deputy Commissioner McAleenan discussed the expansion of pre-screening facilities as a way to facilitate greater in bound travel. He also discussed the use of “trusted traveler” programs, including Global Entry. I raised the issue of lack of clarity on how travelers can take advantage of the reciprocal agreements as well as the status of the APEC Card. He said an update on APEC will be coming soon! And we are setting a meeting to further discuss the usage of other countries expedited screening programs and vice versa.

Photo Credit: Business Forward

Photo Credit: Business Forward

The meeting continued from there with discussions on travel promotion, infrastructure and national parks. The meeting was encouraging in that very smart, powerful people understand and appreciate the impact travel has on the United States and the world. They are just looking to us as an industry to help provide the answers. And we are just the ones to do it!


Business Travel on the Rise

First Business News reported today on the growing economy and rising business travel. They talked about the fact that even in an age where technology allows us to stay more connected than ever, there is really no replacement for the handshake and face-to-face interaction. They also interviewed GBTA Foundation’s Vice President of Research Joe Bates, and referenced our latest U.S. BTI forecast showing business travel is on the rise. Check out the full interview below.


Guest Post: The Disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight 370

By Peter Greenberg, Travel Editor, CBS News

It's one thing to look for a needle in the haystack. But the crash and disappearance of Malaysian Air flight 370 is confronting investigators with an even more difficult task -- they first have to find the haystack, and that may take many more days. The lack of a widespread debris field leads me to believe two things: the plane did NOT break up in flight and then hit the water intact; and the plane may have flown longer -- and further -- than initially thought. Translation: the investigators may have first looked in the wrong area and will now have to widen their search. As a result, we may have to wait much longer to discover the exact location of the aircraft. And, then, whenever they find the wreckage, that's when the investigation gets to start in earnest. Then, and ONLY then, can investigators begin to systematically rule things out, one by one, and slowly begin to form a credible and supportable theory as to the probable cause. For the moment, the search continues, and we all wait.

Image: Malaysia Airlines (YouTube)

Image: Malaysia Airlines (YouTube)

But this is what investigators are looking at while we wait:

1. The entire service and maintenance records of this particular 777. Both Boeing and Malaysia are looking for any chronic problems, and in particular any airframe problems or reports of pressurization failures.

2. A complete psychiatric postmortem, if you will, of the cockpit crew. Did either of the pilots have family or marital problems? A recent financial loss? Had either of them been disciplined for any procedural infractions that might impact their long-term career path?

3. The mysterious disengagement of the airplane's transponder. Any aircraft that flies under air traffic control must have an operational altitude encoding transponder. That piece of equipment continuously signals to air traffic controllers that ID of the specific aircraft, its position and its altitude. It's the transponder that allows the controllers on the ground to separate aircraft in the air, track them and clear them to different altitudes and routes along their way. There are only two ways for a transponder to be turned off: 1) intentionally and manually by one of the cockpit crew, or 2) as a result of a sudden loss of electrical power. One path investigators are following is the notion that if it wasn't the result of loss of power, then whoever was in control of the plane made a conscious decision to disengage that transponder, and in doing so the plane essentially became an unidentified flying object. And, very difficult to track. If this was an act of terrorism, what is also puzzling is that no terror group has yet claimed responsibility for the act.

4. Could there have been a sudden and catastrophic structural failure of the airplane itself at altitude? If so, there would certainly be a widespread debris field. For example, when Pan Am 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, it was flying at 31,000 feet, and the debris field was more than 800 square miles. But no widespread debris field has been found.

5. Could there have been a loss of pressurization in the cockpit (as was the case in the loss of golfer Paine Stewart on his plane), rendering the pilots unconscious? In the Stewart case, the plane flew on for a number of hours on autopilot before it ran out of fuel and crashed. But this scenario can't explain how the transponder was turned off.

6. Pilot suicide. As frightening as this scenario sounds, it has not been ruled out. It might explain why the transponder was turned off. But again, everything at this point is educated speculation. Until the investigators can specifically and confidently rule things out, they cannot reasonably rule anything in. And one of the biggest mysteries in the history of commercial aviation continues.


Latest Forecast Shows Good News for Western Europe

Today, GBTA released our latest GBTA BTI™ Outlook – Western Europe report, a semi-annual analysis of the five most critical business travel markets in Europe: Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Spain. These five markets together form the lion’s share of business travel in the region acting as a good barometer of the health of the entire European business travel market.

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Things are looking up for the region. For the first time since 2010, we are projecting increases in business travel spend in all five markets. This is a big step. While the North – South divide still exists, and Germany and the UK will again lead the way in business travel spending for the rest of the region, France, Italy and Spain now appear to be showing solid signs of recovery.

In what will be a transition year for the European economy, business travel spending is expected to grow 5.1 percent in 2014 followed by an additional 6.5 percent increase in 2015 reaching $198.6 billion USD. Finally, it appears that the 2012-2013 recession is over and Europe’s economy is on more solid ground. Of course there are still risks to the recovery including the sovereign debt crisis, oil prices and emerging markets currency risk, but with rising GDP, improving corporate profits and increasing business confidence things are looking up for business travel growth.


Smisek Returns to GBTA Convention

United Airlines’ Jeff Smisek was a featured speaker on the “Sunday Night Live” welcome session at GBTA’s 2011 Convention in Denver fresh off United’s merger with Continental, making it the world’s largest airline at the time. Jeff told us about his plans for United to not just be the world’s largest airline, but to become the world’s leading airline.

During his interview, he said that the new United would operate under the same two principles his mother raised him on:  Treat other people as you would like to be treated -and- never tell a lie. Dignity and respect along with direct, open and honest communication would become the basis of the new company’s culture. He talked about $550 million in planned investments in refurbishing the existing fleet as well as new aircraft purchases, all aimed at creating an airline that customers want to fly and an airline that investors want to invest in.

Smisek

Three years later, we have the opportunity to bring Jeff back on Center Stage and find out where he thinks United stands now. The recent US Airways and American Airlines merger takes the top spot for world’s largest airline. In 2011, Jeff told us it was more important to be the leading airline than the largest. Does he still feel this way? After everything he has learned in the years since the merger, would he have done anything differently?

During my Q&A with Jeff in 2011, we also talked about industry challenges like the critical lack of support the airline industry receives from Washington. Jeff said the U.S. lacks an aviation policy. He said the industry was taxed more than alcohol, tobacco and firearms, and brutally over-regulated – often with regulations that have very little consumer benefit. This trend does not appear to be changing.

GBTA is a strong advocate for fair taxation and fees. Business travelers are not bottomless piggy banks, yet governments often insist on treating them like ATMs. Punishing a key driver of economic growth is the wrong approach though, and we all pay when governments take a short-sighted approach that raises the costs for business travel. I’ll be interested to find out how Jeff thinks the U.S. government is doing today in its support of the aviation industry and what he thinks still needs to change.

It is going to be a great session and one you won’t want to miss.


Convention Re-imagined

The GBTA Convention has always been a meeting point for the dynamic individuals who make up the business travel industry. Like the industry itself, this year’s Convention is moving forward fast.

I’m excited to share some exciting new changes to Convention with you. Convention this year begins on Saturday and Sunday, July 26 and 27, with the Convention Kick-Start—multiple events and activities from which you can choose, making your Convention experience most rewarding. There will be education offerings, the GTP certification exam, an opportunity to volunteer for the GBTA Cares Service Project  (which this year supports Clean The World, a national non-profit that fights illness among the impoverished), and, of course, the annual GBTA Foundation 8th Annual Golf Classic and Spa day.  

The Opening Reception on Sunday Night will celebrate the 46th year of the GBTA Convention. This is always great fun and an excellent networking event.

On Monday, we hit the ground running with the premier of GBTA Center Stage, where you will see some of the most exciting programming that GBTA has to offer. We will be debuting Monday Morning Live—stay tuned for more details on this.

Tuesday morning will be the Annual Meeting, a forum where GBTA members can participate in the annual business of our Association with the GBTA Board of Directors. Eligible voters will make their decisions on future GBTA leadership, as voting will open after that session.

Each day at noon, Center Stage will host Primetime, an hour-long interview with exciting industry insiders. Immediately following Primetime, the Convention Arena will host lunch and the exciting Convention keynote speakers. While we have not yet finalized the keynote lineup, they are sure to be as interesting and noteworthy as the ones we have had in the past. Be sure to make plans early to attend this year’s Convention in Los Angeles on July 26-30, 2014!  


TSA’s Pistole Coming to Convention

I was very pleased when U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator John S. Pistole accepted our invitation to be a featured speaker at this year’s 2014 GBTA Convention in Los Angeles. Of all the agencies and government officials the GBTA Government Relations team deals with, it’s the TSA officers that interact with you and your travelers on a daily basis. So who better than the head of the TSA to come speak to you? 

TSA Administrator Pistole Talks with Mike McCormick at GBTA's 2011 Convention in Denver

TSA Administrator Pistole Talks with Mike McCormick at GBTA's 2011 Convention in Denver

As frequent readers know, we have been very supportive of PreCheck and other expedited screening programs designed to get the known traveler through security more efficiently. In fact, we believe these known traveler programs or risk-based screening is a more reasonable approach than to take scarce resources to pay for more officers to screen all passengers in the same cookie-cutter mold.

Administrator Pistole has been a champion in this regard and PreCheck has grown tremendously under his watch. But with growth of a successful program comes congestion issues and confusion. I hope you will join this Center Stage event as well as the joint Aviation and Government Relations Committee education session on expedited passenger screening programs to learn more about how the travel experience can be improved for the business traveler.