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SME Travellers Remain The Winners Amid Airfare Fluctuations

SME business travellers will face incremental airfare increases in 2018 but the passenger experience will be better than ever according to the latest 4D FOCUS – Australian Aviation and Airfare Analysis.

The report, produced by Flight Centre Travel Group’s (FCTG) 4th Dimension Business Travel Consulting (4D) team, includes a statistical outlook for 2017 and year on year benchmarking of corporate and leisure airfares from 2014 to 2016.

Corporate Traveller General Manager Jess Anscombe said despite some forecast increases on the most popular domestic routes, the uptick in airfares would be offset by the increased quality of the passenger experience.

“Qantas and Virgin Australia have shifted from capacity battles to focus on shoring up their product.  Both are vying for customer loyalty by introducing innovative new features on the ground and in the air,” she said.

“Two of the most important recent airline innovations was Qantas’ launch of its SME focused Qantas Business Rewards program and Virgin Australia unveiling its new Economy X Class.”

Ms Anscombe said the continued investment of both carriers to boosting their fleets and facilities pointed to the underlying value for money proposition being delivered to business travellers.

The report also suggested a shift from the long-held belief that booking 14-21 days in advance delivers the best fares on the busiest routes. The introduction of Days of the Week fares in late 2016, which made certain fare types more expensive for travel on Thursdays and Fridays, being the clearest disruptor.

Ms Anscombe said the report also highlighted the continuing strong demand in key SME destinations of Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland with resulting cost increases for accommodation.

“Historically, airfares are still very competitive but using some professional expertise to match the market’s dynamic pricing is the best way to ensure you’re accessing the best airfares every time,” she said.

4D’s General Manager Felicity Burke said key international routes for SME travellers continued to show outstanding value.

“Flights between Sydney and Shanghai have dropped an astonishing 27 per cent in the last three years, the biggest fall of any major international route,” she said.

“Sydney and Los Angeles were the next best performing flights dropping 16 per cent in the same period.

“Other major destinations for SME travellers including Auckland, Singapore and Hong Kong all fell between three and nine per cent.”

Flight Centre Travel Group & Airbnb Host New Options for Corporate Travel

In an Australian and New Zealand first, Airbnb, the world’s leading community driven marketplace, has partnered with Flight Centre Travel Group’s (FCTG) corporate division to provide corporate customers with more options when travelling for business.

With five different corporate travel brands, FCTG corporate, offers the broadest range of travel management services for organisations across Australia and New Zealand. The new partnership with Airbnb means that FCTG’s corporate brands will now have an unrivalled pool of accommodation options to offer its corporate customers.

FCTG’s corporate brands, including FCM Travel Solutions, Corporate Traveller, Campus Travel and Stage and Screen, will have access to Airbnb for Business. The new accommodation offering will give FCTG’s corporate customers access to more than three million listings worldwide, which are available to be booked through the home-sharing platform.

Since its founding in 2008, Airbnb hosts have welcomed more than 180 million guest arrivals at Airbnb listings worldwide. Approximately 10 per cent of all travellers on Airbnb are business travellers, and in 2016, the number of business trips on Airbnb tripled.

Through this partnership, FCTG’s corporate travel brands will have access to Airbnb’s third party booking tool. Additionally the travel manager and the employee who is taking the trip, will be able to see trip details, make changes to the reservation, and message the Airbnb host with questions about the listing or neighbourhood.

Andrew Flannery, FCTG’s Executive General Manager of Corporate Travel, said today’s agreement would bolster the company’s award-winning corporate travel offering.

“Customers’ needs and preferences in the corporate travel sector are constantly evolving, and this agreement will deliver interesting new accommodation options that will appeal to sections of our customer base, particularly those who are looking to experience something a little different to a traditional hotel stay,” Mr Flannery said. “It will also benefit our corporate customers who are travelling to locations where there may currently be an under-supply of suitable hotel rooms.

“We are currently talking with a number of clients about the range of opportunities that Airbnb offers for travellers.”

David Holyoke, Global Director of Business Travel at Airbnb said, “We are thrilled to be working with FCTG’s corporate travel brands, in this sector of the travel industry, and look forward to helping Australian and New Zealand business travellers feel more at home while on the road.

“Airbnb for Business gives business travellers the ability to explore a city like a local, making it easy to travel for work without sacrificing the comforts of home.”

FCTG have run a trial with one of their clients over the last few months and they are already seeing a positive impact for their employees travelling for business using Airbnb, with employees included in the trial rating the experience 4.76 out of 5 stars and with an average daily rate of of $80AUD.

Airbnb listings will be available to Campus Travel and Stage and Screen in the coming weeks, and then progressively introduced soon after to FCM Travel Solutions and Corporate Traveller.

Fare Reductions, Better In-flight Services and Loyalty Rewards Keep Corporate Travellers Chipper

Corporates have rarely had it so good, with a recent airfare study indicating the price of corporate Economy Class tickets dropped on key international routes in 2016 and fell by as much as 7% on the top domestic routes, according to the latest 4D FOCUS – Australian Aviation and Airfare Analysis.

The report, which was produced by 4th Dimension, Flight Centre Travel Group’s (FCTG) business travel consulting division, includes a benchmarking study that compares the price of corporate and leisure airfares purchased in 2016 compared to airfares purchased in 2015 and 2014.

4D’s analysis of corporate and leisure tickets purchased through the FCTG’s staple of travel brands, demonstrates that Australian travellers continue to see excellent value from the price of their air tickets.

Compounding the positive news for travellers is the fact that Australian airlines are heavily focused on improving the whole travel experience – from take-off to touch-down as they vie for customer loyalty.

Since 2014, Qantas has upgraded 100 Airbus A330 and 737 aircraft with new interiors, opened new lounges around the country and the carrier is also on the verge of introducing free high-speed Wi-Fi in the domestic market.

John Simeone, Qantas’ Head of Business and Government Sales, said in the report, “This year, we’re entering a new era with the introduction of free high-speed Wi-Fi in the domestic market and the arrival of Qantas’ first Dreamliner, opening up breakthrough routes like Perth – London.”

Meanwhile in the Virgin Australia camp – the brand has started a three month trial of testing in-flight Wi-Fi on its Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

These are but a few of the perks travellers now enjoy when travelling for work or play.

airfare

FCTG Managing Director, Graham Turner, said it’s been positive to see 2016/17 airfares remain competitive.

“Airfares are still extremely affordable for domestic and international travel and I think despite some of the distractions we’re seeing globally – the corporate and leisure travel industry will continue to perform throughout the rest of 2017,” Mr Turner said.

Below is a takeout of some of the key findings in 4D’s report.

Domestic Travel – CORPORATE Economy Class airfare benchmarking

(Based on 2016 fare benchmarking against 2015 fares)

  • Domestic Economy Class price changes for tickets purchased through FCTG’s corporate travel brands ranged from -7% to a 4% increase on key routes
  • Business travellers flying the BNE – MEL and the BNE – PER routes have enjoyed the biggest savings with average purchase price of tickets on both routes falling by 7%
  • Corporates travelling on the CBR – SYD and the MEL – SYD routes struck out on any savings with the average purchase price of tickets increasing up to 4% from 2015 – 2016

Domestic Travel – LEISURE Economy Class airfare benchmarking

(Based on 2016 fare benchmarking against 2015 fares)

  • From 2015 to 2016 the average price of domestic Economy Class leisure fares purchased through FCTG’s leisure division fell by 6%
  • Economy Class price changes for leisure tickets purchased through FCTG’s retail brands ranged from -10% to a 1% increase
  • Big ticket savings for leisure travellers were highlighted on the BNE – SYD route with a 10% reduction on the average purchase price, while tickets purchased through FCTG by leisure travellers flying on the HBA – MEL and the BNE – PER routes dropped by 9%
  • It was only on the MEL – SYD route, where capacity is tightly controlled by airlines due to the high volume of traffic, where travellers didn’t see a price reduction but rather wore a 1% increase on the average price of purchased fares.

Felicity Burke, General Manager, 4th Dimension Business Travel Consulting, said the outcome of the latest research into corporate and leisure fare movement painted an extremely positive picture for companies and smaller businesses, as well as holiday travellers, that have been booking their travel through a travel management company or retail travel agency such as those that fell under FCTG.

“Not only are FCTG’s corporate customers purchasing extremely well-priced fares but they are also getting all the additional value that comes with booking through a travel company such as 24-hour global traveller support, access to experienced consultants that manage their company’s travel policy, travel spend and activity reporting capabilities as well as access to our online booking technology,” Mrs Burke said.

“And the really good news is that this experience is about to get even better for travellers with the likes of Virgin Australia and Qantas both acutely focused on enhancing the traveller experience to grow market share and increase loyalty, particularly in the corporate sector.”

WHAT’S NEW AND CHANGES AHEAD IN 2017

Fare tracking conducted by 4D for first Quarter 2017 indicates a moderate increase of between 3% – 5% in domestic Economy Class fares across both the corporate and leisure buying groups.

Further to this, both the major Australian airlines introduced ‘Days of the Week’ fares late 2016, which has travellers on certain routes, with certain ticket types paying a higher price to fly on Thursday and Friday.

The data collected suggests a definitive shift away from the long-held beliefs of travel buyers – that booking 14-21 days in advance delivers the best deal on the busiest routes. With a likelihood of one in 10 tickets being changed by corporate travellers after a ticket is issued, 4th Dimension highlights that customers should consider the benefits of ‘flexible’ fares to avoid costly change fees. The report shows the average cost of change charged by the airlines is $165.

Internationally, the big changes in 2017 include:

  • Start of non-stop Qantas flights from Perth to London
  • Virgin Australia expanding to Hong Kong and Beijing
  • The opening of Qantas’ flagship international lounge due to open at London Heathrow
  • Qantas adding services to Beijing and Tokyo (Narita) and;
  • Virgin Australia reintroducing a Melbourne to Los Angeles service.

ACCOMMODATION

Strong demand for accommodation

4th Dimension research showed, that in the second half of 2016, there was strong demand for accommodation in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland, as leisure and business travellers arrived in huge numbers for work, conferences and holidays. The upshot in demand fuelled accommodation rate rises in those cities, with hotel rates increasing two or three times more than what the traveller paid for flights. Looking ahead to the second half of 2017 and into 2018, room bookings in these metro hot spots are expected to continue, causing demand to outstrip supply in some cases during peak periods.

FAST FACTS

1Source: BITRE, Aviation Domestic Airline Ontime Performance 2016
2Source: CAPA Centre for Aviation
3Published fare year-on-year benchmarking fare change 2016. Source 4D analytics