On March 27, the Business Travel Coalition published a followup survey to one it released last week asking corporate travel managers how they are responding to the war with Iraq. While most results stayed within a few percentage points of where they were last week, there were two sharp increases. Companies considering banning some or all international travel went from 33 percent in the March 19 survey to 37 percent in the most recent poll. Also, those who had communicated to employees that they shouldn’t feel pressured to travel jumped from 65 percent on March 19 to 73 percent this week. And while those who said they were banning international travel fell from 21 percent to 19 percent, the percentage of companies holding firm indicates that war-related concerns are still high.
But it was the commentary included with the results that was most striking, particularly given the state of major U.S. air carriers these days. For example, one respondent said, in response to a question about tightening the pre-approval process for international travel, that travelers "must use foreign flag carriers when available and use … international gateways when applicable." Another reported that, while the domestic travel policy hasn’t changed, the company is addressing on a one-off basis that if an employee is concerned about traveling on an American courier, "our agents have been instructed to be considerate of those concerns and to offer another non-preferred choice."
And for meetings, the news isn’t much better. One respondent said, "Customer facing travel is still allowed. Internal meeting travel has been cancelled with advice to do the meetings via audio/videoconference." Another reported that while there was no company-wide tightening of controls on domestic travel, "One manager is not allowing any to travel at this time for seminars/conferences. Only urgent travel is allowed."
BTC also has updated its U.S. airline industry scenarios, dropping the best case scenario and upping the odds from 50 percent to 60 percent probability on Scenario 2, titled "Stampede to Chapter 11." Scenario 3, "Complete and Total Industry Collapse," stayed steady with a 40 percent probability rating.
For more, go to BTC March 27 Report .
The Hotel Side
Just days into the war, a PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey found that more than 20 percent of booked rooms were cancelled over the next seven days in key meetings industry cities, including San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, and Orlando. PWC lodging industry analyst Bjorn Hanson told the Los Angeles Times on March 24 that bookings over the next few weeks would plummet 5 percent from pre-war forecasts. "The markets being penalized are those with a higher percentage of international travelers and those with a higher percentage of air travel," Hanson told the Times. In a Reuters report, Hanson said, "cancellations appear to be outpacing new reservations."
Under the scenarios released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, upon which PWC based its lodging forecasts, the most likely scenario is still a brief war that lasts four to six weeks, entails no significant reduction to oil supplies, and ends with a U.S. victory. Under this scenario, PWC predicts thatwill decrease for the first half of this year, and bounce back to baseline growth by the year’s end, resulting in a 0.5 percent increase for the year. Under CSIS’ intermediate and worst-case scenarios, PWC forecast RevPAR decreases of 0.1 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.
Smith Travel Research also found RevPARs falling as a result of the war. By the end of the first week of war, the firm found an 8.4 percent drop from this time last year; average room rates fell 3.8 percent. Hardest hit were the biggest money-makers: high-end properties in large cities. Luxury hotels fared poorly, being down 10.3 percent, while urban hotels overall went down 11.8 percent.
The U.S. ally in war is also feeling the effects, with a 4.3 percent drop in occupancy and a 2 percent decrease in room rates in the London hotel market, according to the United Kingdom arm of industry analyst firm PKF.