Businesses are sending smaller groups of employees on more luxurious trips in the new world of incentive travel, according to a leading air charter specialist. The MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions) industry was one of the hardest-hit during the pandemic when travel came to a screeching halt. But it is finding its feet again as travel restrictions continue to ease and employees return to the workplace.
After a long hiatus, however, it may not look exactly as it did before. Catriona Taylor, Group Passenger Operations Director at Chapman Freeborn Air-chartering, has noticed some distinct differences in an industry which has built its reputation on large scale conferences and corporate weekends away in Las Vegas.
“Those type of events will always be popular, and they will return, but what we’re seeing at the moment is something different,” she said. “Businesses have two or three years of unused budget – and they are ready to spend. But they are also aware that the world has changed. “There’s been a distinct drop in group size from what we’ve been used to pre-pandemic. Down from 250 to nearer 100.
“But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are spending less. Rather than focusing on taking a large group in economy they are chartering smaller aircraft and aiming for luxury. “For instance, a 50-seater aircraft which is entirely business class.” Some of the luxuries requested by businesses on board include fine dining, bespoke wines and aircraft which are fitted out in corporate colours with the company crest on all headrests.
“There’s no doubt the focus is on providing a luxury experience for employees and there’s a sense of wanting to reward the people who have got them through the pandemic,” said Catriona. “That might mean taking only senior management on the trip but more often it’s about rewarding high performers. The top salespeople in the business who have delivered results, for instance, or employees with long service.
“We’ve also seen a rise in companies wanting to plan something special for a business anniversary.” It isn’t only the size of the travelling party which is changing, however. Chapman Freeborn, which will celebrate its own 50th anniversary next year, is seeing changes in destination choice, too.
Catriona added: “For those planning a luxury trip, the most popular destinations are islands such as Santorini and Sardinia. “But there is also thirst for winter sun and we’re seeing a lot of European bookings in the Canary Islands from November onwards. “In the United States, companies tend to travel within their own country rather than long haul to look for sun, which is what makes Vegas and Miami so popular. It’s certainly an interesting time for the MICE industry wherever you are, with enquiries on the up.”
That boom is also good for the aviation industry which, like the MICE sector, was hit hard during pandemic. Businesses are turning to air charter for greater certainty after seeing a rise in scheduled flight cancellations over the summer because of staff shortages at airports and airlines, especially in the UK. “That’s been a factor,” said Catriona. “When businesses have waited so long to treat their employees, they want to be certain it goes ahead as planned. Chartering gives you greater control over your journey and far greater certainty it will operate as planned.”