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Business agents facing bleak 2021 despite vaccine roll-out

First published in travelmole on 8th January 2021.

Business travel agents are set to go another 12 months with little or no income, the Chief Executive of the Business Travel Association has warned. Clive Wratton said the sector is unlikely to see any meaningful recovery until late 2021, or even the early months of 2022. It will mean corporate agents will have gone 18 months 'with no real cash coming through the till', he said.

"The honest truth is business travel is looking at 2021 to be really, really soft throughout most of the year and that is a real concern," Wratton said.

Speaking at the Elman Wall webinar he outlined the key new year objective for the BTA will be extending the furlough scheme beyond the end of April.

Lobbying efforts have already begun with treasury officials, with Wratton describing the job retention scheme as a 'lifeline' for the beleaguered sector.

Unlike the leisure sector and the travel corridors, business agents have enjoyed no respite, he said.

"There were spikes in leisure....there was a bit of an opportunity, but business travel has remained constantly 90% down," he explained. "The restart we were hoping for as an industry was Q3, but that has been pushed back another quarter to Q4."

But with key buyers telling the BTA there is just no appetite for business travel, and not expecting much of an improvement during the year, a recovery for business agents may drift into the first quarter of 2022.

"The first campaign is to get an extension of the furlough scheme beyond April," Wratton said. "Furlough has been a lifeline in the current climate. It is absolutely critical in protecting further redundancies and job losses."

Nevertheless, Wratton estimated that 55% of employees in the sector - amounting to 7000 jobs - have been lost since Covid.

'The loss of so many experienced people has drained the sector of skills that will be needed when the market does return', he added.