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Is business travel going places?

Travel agents in the business sector are buoyed by forecasts of a same-or-stronger 2013 in spend.

Air travel
business travel,Travel agents
Business

REUTERS.COM - Travel agents in the business sector are buoyed by forecasts of a same-or-stronger 2013 in spend.

In their latest forecast, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), a U.S.-based trade body, thinks "pent-up demand" means rising growth rates in business travel spend throughout the year.

But a higher spend - the 2013 total is expected to rise by 4.6 percent as opposed to the timid 1.6 percent growth last year - doesn't mean an increase in actual business travel.

GBTA projects a 1.1 percent decline in trip volume to 431.8 million person-trips in 2013. The spending increase can be explained by rising travel rates.

UK travel managers are forecasting a rates rise. Of those polled recently by AirPlus, a business travel payment solutions provider, more felt that the cost of air and lodging, rather than the volume of flights and rooms, would increase this year. Hotel rates are expected to rise more significantly than airfares.

Of the 2,101 travel managers polled by AirPlus, 64 percent said that they thought the total number of business trips would stay the same in 2013 while 28 percent thought that the travel itself would increase.

GBTA says the numbers can still be seen as an early indication of greater corporate confidence.

"While companies will approach the first half of the year with some caution, pent-up demand to get back on the road should hopefully fuel accelerating growth in business travel spending through the end of 2013," says Michael W. McCormick, GBTA executive director and COO.

A rebound in international outbound travel is a catalyst for the upswing, with group travel (meetings and events) particularly robust and forecast for annual growth of 5.2 percent.

In another survey by U.S. tour operator Travel Leaders Group, nearly 80 percent of their 335 "business-focused" agents are forecasting that clients will be travelling as much or more than last year (fewer than 10 percent of those polled say their clients will be travelling less).

Despite the general air of optimism, "finding ways to trim costs and save on business travel are still paramount," counsels Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben.

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