It was with a great deal of glee in her voice that Marie Burewell, Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, director, North America, based in New York City, told me in an interview that new daily flights would begin from Newark, N.J., to Stockholm via Continental Airlines in June. That's in addition to Malaysian Airlines' three weekly flights from Newark that began last November; and Scandinavian Airlines' daily nonstop service from Newark and Chicago.
I share Burewell's optimism that the increase in airlift is an indicator of a healthy upswing in international business travel. It's a fact: According to OAG Worldwide, which collects statistics from more than 1,000 scheduled airlines around the world every day, the number of flights worldwide now exceeds that of first quarter 2001.
Low-cost and Asia-Pacific airlines are leading the growth. The biggest increase from this past April to April of last year is in China, which has seen a 12 percent increase in flights to and from China, and a 20 percent increase in domestic flights. OAG reports a 7 percent increase in flights to, from, and within Europe. Worldwide the growth figure is 5 percent.
What does all this mean to meeting and incentive planners taking events outside the United States? Theeconomy, which in many respects put on its brakes in 2001, is now chugging forward. At a conference for pharmaceutical meeting planners that one of our magazines, , co-sponsored in March, the vast majority of the more than 250 meeting planners present said they plan meetings outside of the U.S. These were primarily planners for multinational companies whose international meetings and events are critical to their success. Of course 9/11 and our heightened attention to security has brought about scores of other types of international meetings and events as well.
Increased airlift also means more options and itineraries for your attendees, and more competition means — one hopes — better deals.
More good news: The low-cost carrier phenomenon, which was born in the United States, has taken off in Europe and spread to Asia and the Middle East. According to OAG, within the Asia-Pacific region, where low-cost aviation is still in its infancy, the number of budget flights has more than doubled in the last year, a 101 percent increase. Within Europe, there were 24 percent more budget flights in April 2005 than in April 2004.
Again, meeting and incentive planners should rejoice: How much more pleasing and inviting can an overseas meeting be when one can add on a few days or a weekend in another incredible city if it just costs $100 to fly there?
All this can temper, I hope, the weakening dollar, about which we hear so much. To find out more ways to cope with that weak dollar and stretch your budget, and for advice on cultural protocol, the law, risk management, and much more, read on. Bon Voyage!