Global specialist Chapman Freeborn predicts a bumper 2023 for the industry
The global MICE sector is being tipped to come back stronger than ever in 2023 following a rapid increase in air charter enquiries. Simon Cooper, Passenger Charter Manager at Chapman Freeborn Airchartering, says enquiries are already close to pre-pandemic level – with employers storing up budget for the future. He said: “There’s absolutely no doubt that MICE is on the way back and that people want to return to ‘real life’ meetings, conferences, and incentive travel.
“In terms of our enquiries, we are at about 90% of pre-Covid levels already and that figure is rising all the time. It’s a good barometer for the industry. “The only caveat is that bookings are not rising quite as quickly. So, there’s still some hesitancy in the market. But September is looking busy – and we expect 2023 to be a big year, especially for incentive travel.
“A lot of businesses have unused budget from the last two years, and they want to treat their employees to a trip away. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see figures rise above pre-Covid levels in 2023.”
The advice to businesses and travel management companies organising incentive travel is to charter early. Simon added: “Already the availability of aircraft is at a premium. The spare ad-hoc capacity normally utilised for group passenger travel is being taken by scheduled carriers who would rather lease than bring back aircraft which were taken out of service during the pandemic.
“As demand grows, the competition for aircraft will grow with it. So, businesses thinking of taking employees away on an incentive trip in 2023 should be thinking early about how to get there. “Recent stories of scheduled airlines cancelling flights have also added to interest in chartering aircraft.
“When you charter an aircraft, it is not subject to cancellation. Clients choose the date and time – and fast-track security can be organised. Brokers also speak to ground handlers in advance, carefully choosing providers who aren’t likely to have a lack of staff availability – a problem which has hampered scheduled airlines recently.”
The return of MICE is good news for the aviation industry but also for business, because conferences and trade fairs can be an effective way to increase sales. “I attended IMEX Frankfurt, where the number of exhibitors was down 20% on pre-Covid levels, but the general feeling was positive,” said Simon.
“Hybrid events are still in place but there’s no doubt that the pandemic has made people realise the value of face-to-face meetings and business travel. “Businesses also want to thank their staff for sticking with them and make them feel good about where they work.
“Chartering an aircraft is probably the ultimate way of getting away. “We’ve had clients who wanted head rests branded with their logo and amenity packs handed out to passengers. “Some even ask for the entire aircraft to be branded, with the crew in special uniform and bespoke menus on board. “We took three wide-bodied aircraft, all branded with corporate logos, to Las Vegas recently and that’s always a popular destination.”
Chapman Freeborn, which has more than 20 offices worldwide and access to more than 40,000 aircraft, believes the MICE revival is being driven by businesses in the US and Europe. Shoulder-season trips to sunshine destinations such as the Canary Islands, Barcelona and Ibiza are current hot-spots in the latter, with US businesses favouring trips within their own country. Simon added: “Enquiries are rising fast to those destination and the market is certainly opening up again.”
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