The chief executive of George Best Belfast City Airport has welcomed the findings of a report in which six in 10 (64%) business leaders in Northern Ireland cited air travel essential to facilitate face-to-face business.
Commissioned by London City Airport, the report points to a rapid resurgence in business air travel with 73% of business leaders expecting their companies to fly for business purposes within the next two years.
Over 1,000 business leaders from across the UK were interviewed as part of the report, published by WPI Economics which examines the economic benefits of a speedy return to business travel to the UK economy.
Key findings include:
Overall, 73% of business leaders believe that their business will use air travel in the next two years
Nearly half (47%) of those businesses who did not use air travel before the pandemic, say that will be likely to over the next two years
For those who used air travel prior to the pandemic, 98% would also use air travel in the next two years
Nearly seven in 10 (67%) said that they would lose clients or contracts if their team was unable to fly
Half or more of business leaders in Northern Ireland (64%) said that flying is essential for them to do business face-to-face
In 2019, business related aviation activity totalled £1bn in Northern Ireland
Following the relaxation of almost all Covid-19 related travel restrictions, air passenger numbers are continuing to increase. With 21 destinations on sale this summer and more domestic connectivity than any other Northern Ireland airport, George Best Belfast City Airport is currently facilitating approximately 65% of pre-pandemic passenger volumes and expects this to be at 100% by year end.
Matthew Hall, CE at Belfast City Airport, said: “This report has revealed the dependence business leaders place on air travel to and from Northern Ireland, and this is reflected in the increasing demand we are seeing from corporates. At Belfast City Airport our airline partners are gradually increasing capacity and frequency to ensure flexibility and convenience to business passengers. To that end, we will facilitate up to 15 daily services to London this summer and with hub access through Heathrow, Amsterdam, Birmingham and Manchester, business passengers can connect to a global network.
“Despite a surge in virtual communication throughout the pandemic, technology is now being used to complement rather than replace face to face interaction which 64% of local business leaders stated as crucial. The economic benefits of a speedy return to travel* are undeniable, potentially amounting to an additional £1bn for the Northern Irish economy.
“At Belfast City Airport we are mindful of the challenges of the industry and are gradually phasing the introduction and increase of services with an unwavering commitment to growing responsibly and sustainably.”
Analysis of CAA Passenger Surveys revealed that in 2019 Belfast City Airport had the second highest proportional share of business travellers in the UK. Providing demand for hospitality, retail and leisure, business related aviation activity totalled £1bn in Northern Ireland in the same year.
Mr Hall continued: “In 2019, 44% of our passengers were travelling for business purposes and we believe this is down to the proximity of the airport which is just a five-minute drive from the city centre, and the speed at which passengers can move through the terminal with average security processing times of just six minutes. In addition to this, CAA data has revealed that Belfast City Airport had the best on time performance of any UK airport in the first three months of 2022 meaning our passengers get to where they need to be as quickly as possible.
“This is all supported by the findings of the report within which 29% of business leaders said a quicker, more comfortable journey through the airport would make it more likely for them to fly for business and almost a quarter stating that increased ease of getting to and from the airport would make it more likely.
“With the extraordinary level of reliance on air connectivity from corporates highlighted in this report, it is evident business air travel will be key to the recovery of not only the aviation industry, but other sectors of the economy including leisure, hospitality and international conferencing.”
Within the report WPI Economics compared a slow return to business travel compared to a speedy return and found that the quick return scenario would boost the UK economy by as much as £17.5billion between now and 2030. Between 2022-2030, the difference between a slow and speedy return of business air travel amounts to £1bn for the Northern Irish economy.
Simon Hamilton, CE of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, explained: “Being located on an island off an island, and, therefore, in the absence of a UK-wide rail network, air connectivity to and from Northern Ireland is crucial as an economic enabler. The return of business air travel will be key to the wider economic prosperity of the region whilst supporting and creating thousands of jobs.
“It is therefore no surprise almost two thirds of local business leaders view air travel as essential to their business and is why building on the great work of the team at Belfast City Airport in establishing new connections is so central to the future economic success of our city and wider region”.
Matthew Oakley, director at WPI Economics, added: “Prior to the pandemic, the aviation sector contributed £100 billion to the UK economy. Approximately a fifth of this came from passengers travelling on business - an area that has not yet fully recovered and thus represents a significant gap in the post-pandemic rebound.”
The report, which includes in-depth interviews with several multinational businesses, also highlights a new post pandemic trend. Respondents said they are examining the benefits of the so called ‘Bleisure’ market, combining travel for work with potential ‘add on’ time spent for leisure as part of their employee package. Business leaders consider this a new way to increase their global reach and attract and retain talent.