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Emirates President Expects Full Business Travel Recovery Next Year

Edward Russell
October 4th, 2021 at 5:42 PM EDT

Emirates President Tim Clark and other global airline CEOs expect a full business travel recovery, a bullish outlook that has replaced the bearish views many held just months ago.

“I believe business travel will come bouncing back by the end of next year,” Clark said on Monday in one of the most optimistic international business travel recovery outlooks to date. He added that Emirates anticipates “very strong” business demand in 2023 and 2024 as well.

Clark’s comments at the IATA Annual General Meeting in Boston carry extra weight as Emirates relies nearly entirely on international travelers, a market that most other executives have said will come back slower than domestic demand due to border restrictions. He did not elaborate on whether certain international business markets would return before others.

Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr and United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby agreed with Clark’s forecast, especially when looking two- to three-years out.

Lucrative business travelers were largely missing from the early stages of the Covid-19 recovery. Holidaygoers and visiting friends and relatives travelers have filled planes around the world as vaccination rates have risen and restrictions eased. The return of corporate road warriors is the next necessary step for much of the airline industry to return to financial health. And, at least in the U.S., that was on pace to occur in September until the Delta variant put the brakes on returns to the office and many potential trips.

Kirby said he expects the U.S. business travel recovery to resume in earnest in January — after the year-end holiday season. This will include both domestic trips as well as ones to Europe, where borders are set to reopen in both directions to vaccinated travelers in November. Kirby reiterated his view that United will see its “best” summer period ever on the transatlantic during Summer 2022.

No airline executive Airline Weekly spoke with at the event expressed doubt about the future of business travel. Not everyone was as bullish as Clark that it will be back next year, with many citing differences between domestic and international markets, but there was universal agreement that the segment will return. Lacking at the event was an executive like outgoing Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly who has said that he does not see business travel recovering for at least a decade if ever.

Latam Airlines Group CEO Roberto Alvo — who is “confident” that business travel will recover — described two concurrent trends. Virtual meeting technology will replace some business trips for good, he said, but the rise of remote work will mean more trips as workers travel to offices for occasional meetings. While these trends may not be equal at first, the eventual result will be a return of the corporate segment for the airline.

“People like to travel, people like to meet with each other — and even if you say people were flying every other week and [now] they’re reviewing it, there’s a whole new generation waiting to travel and make a career,” KLM CEO Pieter Elbers said.

Correction: The original headline on this story was corrected to say Clark expects the recovery next year.

Edward Russell
October 4th, 2021 at 5:42 PM EDT

Photo credit: Emirates President Sir Tim Clark sees a full business travel recovery in 2022. Flickr / Hermann Maurer

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