Hybrid passengers, more diverse demographics, and an enthusiasm for airport leisure will all propel the continued travel retail recovery in 2023, according to new insights from JCDecaux UK.
UK passengers are returning to air travel with “enthusiasm”, with 2022 numbers at 76% of pre-pandemic levels, according to David Hawkins, Director of Commercial and Partnerships – Airport at JCDecaux UK.
Speaking to TRBusiness, he said the advertising giant is forecasting a passenger number recovery to 96% during 2023 through both Heathrow and Edinburgh airports.
While business travel has been slower to rebound, he’s predicting a surge in business travel over the coming year, with a shift in demographics opening up new opportunities for travel retailers.
“There’s been a hesitation over the return of business travel for multiple reasons,” Hawkins said. From being mindful of spend to the shift in online communications, he admitted the sector had been lagging behind leisure travel.
“I think as we go into 2023, we’re seeing from companies that the digital world just doesn’t cut it. There’s a real recognition from business that [people] need to be back into the room, that better relationships are formed from face to face.”
The reality is evident in data from Heathrow. Business travel accounted for 25% of passengers in 2022, peaking at 28% in the fourth quarter.
“When we compare that to the numbers pre-pandemic, we were sitting at 31%. We’re only a few points behind.”
Having spoken to travel sectors adjacent to aviation, Hawkins said its evident there’s a “huge uplift” in the number of days people are travelling for. The data suggests an increase in so-called ‘hybrid’ travel.
“Gone are the days travelling for two days on business and then coming back home,” he continued. “The theory is that people are actually becoming a little bit more mindful of being sustainable.
“When you’re travelling for business it’s the perk of the job. Whilst you’re there, you can enjoy everything about the destination that you’re travelling to. And maybe have your family come out and piggyback on the back of that journey and that experience as well.”
As such, mindsets are shifting with all stakeholders needing to adapt to the changing perspectives and needs of travellers, he added.
With the nature of travel shifting and merging, Hawkins said there’s less of a differentiation between how business and leisure travellers interact in the airport.
“It’s the environment that brings the ‘millionaire mindset’ rather than the reason for travel,” he confirmed. “The split between domestic and international is more because of the downtime that’s available in the airport.
“Generally we’re finding that specifically within the business world, passengers arriving two to three hours before their flight. There was the thought the business travellers will get there just before you fly, go through to the lounge. But actually research shows they do want to be [in the airport], and they’re using it as downtime and relaxation time.”
As such, he says, business travellers will spend. “We have an affluent audience in an environment where they want to spend time, and where they’re open for opportunity. It’s the perfect melting pot to drive spend and drive retail.”
Alongside the ‘hybrid’ model, demographics of business travellers are evolving. With 40% of board roles now held by women, and the average age of promotion to a senior role standing at 39.9 years, according to JCDecaux data. The face of business travel is changing.
“You’re looking at the new world of business travel,” Hawkins stated. “We talked about millennials travelling, but there’s Gen Z that will start to come through as well.”
He is confident that the GTR community is ready to shift to embrace the new business travellers.
“There is a recognition of the changing audience that’s coming forward at the moment,” he said. “The pandemic really pushed us into a time of change, a time of collaboration.”
Now he’s seeing a collaborative focus on experiences alongside retail. “The industry needs to come together as one to make sure that we’re driving not only entertainment for interaction, but also drive to point the sale within the environment.”