COVID-19: How changes to Airline Travel may impact the Corporate Events Industry

During this unprecedented era, a question commonly posed to us by event professionals is, “will the corporate event industry be affected by changes within the Airline Industry?”  Not unlike other COVID-19 (C-19) related issues, there is no set playbook, and the airline recovery strategy requires continuous monitoring, analysis and assessment by the event risk management team.

What does the Airline Industry say?

The airline industry has been sending mixed messages and there is currently no clarity which new measures will prevail.

International Airlines Group (IAG) who own British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus have predicted that a return to 2019 passenger levels will take “several years” following the pandemic.

Ed Bastian, Delta CEO, recently insisted: “The most important thing to get people travelling is going to be confidence in safety”.  He predicted domestic travel would return to normal operations before international.  During a May 3 appearance on “Face the Nation,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly claimed a plane is as safe as any other space.

Current Airline Measures

Delta Airlines are currently blocking middle seats and capping flight loads until June 30, allowing only 50 to 60% of available seats on a flight to be booked. Other airlines adopting similar measures include Emirates, American Airlines, Japan Airlines and United. The reality is that airlines cannot sustain this indefinitely without increasing fares or Government subsidy.

Industry commentators are divided with some indicating seat prices will increase whereas others predict reductions as Airlines compete on certain routes. What appears certain is domestic and ‘within borders’ travel will recover faster with speculation that adapting international routes to use specific air corridors may become an interim solution.

Possible Impact?

  • Recent conversations with WebEvents Global and BCD Meetings & Events indicate 90 to 93% attendees travel by air to corporate conferences and exhibitions.  Locations reliant on events and tourism, such as Orlando and Las Vegas, will be key indicators towards industry recovery.
  • Instilling passenger confidence in air travel safety will be the responsibility of Airlines and Government’s, requiring guidance from respective transportation agencies. Business travellers and their employers will want to know that the event and associated travel will be managed safely.
  • The duration of air travel is likely to become more time-consuming as passengers experience enhanced screening protocols which could discourage many.  Event organisers should consider destinations to ensure maximum route options and flexibility.
  • Large events may be scaled down to multiple more focussed formats, resulting in increased demand for smaller capacity venues with the added benefit of single client tenancy.
  • If regional hybrid style events (in-person and virtual) are adopted, reliance on air travel for attendees could be significantly reduced.
  • Current traveller quarantine requirements could have the biggest impact on all of the above, and dictate the viability of an event and the ability to assemble the necessary staff and infrastructure.

Working Groups should monitor the risk landscape.

What’s clear is a lot of uncertainty remains at this juncture. Governments will need to support airlines, tourism and the event industry as they are all part of the same eco-system.  A mitigation approach, we are recommending to clients, is the early establishment of a working group to monitor the risk landscape and consider all aspects of C-19 impact inclusive of Air Travel.

Powermill is a consultancy that provides corporate event solutions globally to a select group of clients. Our mission is to be the risk management and knowledge partner of choice for the corporate events sector.

Visit our Homepage  or contact us for more details.