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Business travel in MENA on road to recovery

Helena Tzioti - 26 February 2013, 10:57

According to the 2012 YouGov Travel Oracle, more than two-in-five MENA business travelers surveyed (43%) reported an increase in business travel budgets during the year (compared to 35% in 2010 and 41% in 2011).

In the wake of the global economic crisis, companies were forced to implement cost-saving strategies. While the MENA region was less affected than others, companies nonetheless adopted similar strategies, which commonly included broad cuts in travel budgets and strict limits placed on business travel. Over the past year, however, business travel budgets have gradually regained the growth momentum seen prior to the crisis. According to the 2012 YouGov Travel Oracle, more than two-in-five MENA business travelers surveyed (43%) reported an increase in business travel budgets during the year (compared to 35% in 2010 and 41% in 2011). The outlook for next year is optimistic, with nearly half of business travelers surveyed in the GCC (n=3517; 47%) saying they expect their business travel to increase in the coming year. In particular, Algerian respondents were the most confident, with almost a quarter (24%) expecting their business trips to ‘increase a lot’. Males were more positive about the coming year, with one-in-six male business travelers (17%) saying their business travel will ‘increase a lot’, compared to one-in-eight (13%) females.

The most popular business travel destinations for MENA travelers surveyed in 2012 were the UAE (14%) and KSA (9%), highlighting these areas as business hubs. Interestingly, only 4% of MENA business travelers visited Egypt, on par with 2011 results (4%), and still below 2010 (7%), showing that business travel to the market remains diminished in the wake of the revolution and change in leadership. Looking forward, UAE respondents most commonly expect to visit Qatar (6%), India (5%), China (5%) and KSA (5%) for business in the next 12 months.

Almost one-third (29%) of business travelers surveyed flew in a premium class in 2012 (12% in first class and 17% in business class). Interestingly, one of the most common travel policies enforced by companies was ‘class of service depending on seniority’ (selected by 28% of business travelers surveyed). Other typical travel policies regulate ‘ticket price limit’ and ‘choice of airline’. In terms of selecting an airline, one-third of respondents with a corporate policy on airline choice say they have the freedom to choose one if they can justify their choice, and just over a quarter can select a cheaper alternative. On the other hand, one-in-five respondents (19%) state there is absolutely no choice; the airline is chosen by the organization.

Increased travel budgets are also apparent in the way respondents are booking their travel, with an increasing proportion of respondents this year indicating a third-party organized their trip (either a travel department in their company or a travel agent). Whereas, in 2010, 29% of business travelers surveyed organized their flight directly with the company, a task which is likely to have required more time but cost less, 2011 saw this number fall to 25% and in 2012 only 24% of respondents said they organized their flight directly with the company.

The Travel Oracle was conducted using the YouGov Online Panel and all questionnaires were completed between the 17th December 2012 and 14th January 2013. The results are based on a total sample of 22,429 respondents (including 8,271 from GCC, 3,066 from the Levant and 7,999 from North Africa). The YouGov panel is broadly representative of the online populations within the region.

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