Tuesday 11 December 2018

Travellers' layover moans might give Cathay a shot in the arm

It’ll pay to focus on what the Chinese traveller wants if Dublin is to forge new links (stock pic)
It’ll pay to focus on what the Chinese traveller wants if Dublin is to forge new links (stock pic)

Mark Evans

The old adage that travel is about the journey, not the destination, isn't the case with the corporate traveller. A new report has found that the biggest problem with business travel is just that - the travelling bit.

Almost half of those surveyed (47pc) have a real gripe with layovers, with plane-changing and endless hours spent in soulless airport terminals taking up time, and hitting productivity.

And where the business man or woman stays is also an issue - four in 10 had quibbles about the work environment (ie, hotel) when travelling, while just over one in three were irritated by having to change itineraries while abroad - 42pc don't like changing flight or train reservations, while just over one in three say the same about having to change hotel reservations while on the road.

But companies can make life easier for the weary traveller, the 'Creating a Frictionless Travel Experience' survey found.

Travellers' demands are pretty straightforward: convenient and comfortable hotels, nonstop flights, booking flexibility, and paid time off to compensate for long trips were among the most favoured perks on wishlists. Optional services business travellers were most likely to buy abroad included productivity-enhancing hotel high-speed internet and airplane/train wifi, seat upgrades, and early boarding.

The majority (79pc, rising to 88pc of millennials) said that their travel experience has a significant impact on their overall job satisfaction, and similar numbers said that the quality of their travel affects their business results.


The lack of layovers could be a key selling point for Cathay Pacific as it begins direct flights from Dublin to China's key economic region of Hong Kong next year.

While the service has been welcomed by the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and tourism bodies here, not everyone's so sure about yet another link to the east, particularly in the light of continued rumours of a direct service to Beijing in the offing.

"I'm not sure how viable it will be," one airline executive told this column. "With Etihad and Emirates and recently Qatar offering one-stop connectivity from Dublin to Asia via the Middle East, the Hong Kong service its going to be up against stiff competition." It's a view shared by others in the industry, who don't have a stake in the game as they don't work for a carrier operating in that market. On top of the Middle Eastern trio, Turkish offers good connectivity via Istanbul, plus there's the option of convenient one-stop routes via Helsinki, Amsterdam and Paris.

But that layover issue might just work in Hong Kong's favour, particularly if there's enough point-to-point demand between Ireland and the south of China.


On that issue, if airlines are serious about enticing the high-spending Chinese tourist or business person to Ireland - and in turn opening up vital links for Irish industry - it's worthwhile getting the perspective of Chinese travellers themselves. "Fare and convenience are the big issues," Sunnie, an Irish-based journalist with media company Emerald Media told this column at a recent airline event. "Luggage is a major issue - the allowance needs to be big as Chinese culture means bringing gifts for everyone." And that's a corporate, not just leisure, issue.

The massive market already has its views on how it wants to connect into Europe. "Customer loyalty takes a long time to build up, but Heathrow is too big and confusing. Travellers just find changing terminals and going to gates very stressful." Amsterdam Schiphol is the key choice, she says, ahead of Paris Charles De Gaulle, as the signage is clearer and in the Chinese language (also in Japanese for another key market).

The message is already being taken on board - Paris is copying Amsterdam's signage to the letter, so if Dublin is serious about developing the market, and becoming a bridge to the east as well as the west, the lessons have already been learned, and ought to be copied.


How does an airline pick a new route - you'd think profit forecasts, load factors, spotting a gap in the market. How about Facebook? That was the odd move by low-cost German carrier Eurowings, which recently decided to launch a service next year - based on the amount of votes cast on its dedicated Facebook page by would-be passengers.

Two Irish airports were in the running - Shannon and Belfast International - against most Eastern European cities. A bit like the Eurovision, Ireland lost out, with Mostar in Bosnia beating Shannon by the slimmest of margins. The Irish airport is now in talks with the Germans to give the service a shot, insiders told the Sunday Independent. So watch this space.

Sunday Indo Business

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business