BT4Europe president Patrick Diemer highlighted two EU initiatives likely to impact business travel in 2023, telling delegates at AEGVE’s International Travel Management Summit in Malaga that “travel buyers now have a voice in Brussels” following the establishment of the group earlier this year.
The leader of the fledgling organisation, whose 13 member associations from across Europe were all in attendance at the conference, said: “Our industry is in a really difficult situation at the moment. We still feel the impact of Covid 19, volumes are still below their all-time highs, and an important country [China] is still, practically speaking, closed for business travel.”
Diemer also highlighted car rental capacity shortages, reduced airline networks, staffing shortages and airport delays as ongoing challenges for travel management. “We understand that our suppliers are working hard on this, but the complexities of travel infrastructure right now are a concern for us.”
He continued: “At this time, the policymakers in Brussels – and also in all the other capitals across Europe – have other things on their mind. It is of course understood that their priority is the war in Ukraine and how we can support Ukraine. There is an energy crisis coming out of that and we also have very high inflation numbers across Europe. All of this is top of mind and personally, as a citizen of Europe, these priorities are correct.”
“But also at this time we need to raise our voice because there is a lot of legislation happening in Europe that is going to impact business travel.”
Diemer highlighted two initiatives in particular: the Multimodal Digital Mobility Services (MDMS) proposal and Count Emissions EU.
The former, which closed for consultation in February and is due to be adopted by the European Commission in Q1 2023, is part of the EU’s policy to “drive us to trains rather than aircraft” for cross-border travel within Europe, said Diemer. He believes it is a “good initiative in the right direction” but expressed concerns about corporate booking tools’ ability to facilitate such trips.
“There is a big push from Europe, the Multimodal Digital Mobility Services proposal, to get booking engines to display rail equal with air [for travel] across borders in Europe,” said Diemer. “In most of our countries domestic rail services are easily accessible through booking engines but if you want to go across the border we are still confronted with an antiquated IT system. There’s no modern interlining as we are used to from airlines.”
In a subsequent session, Angela Lille, chair of BT4Europe’s working group on sustainability, presenting the organisation’s first position paper, Sustainability in Business Travel, also expressed concerns about the accessibility of international rail travel in booking tools.
“Rail booking capability is very limited right now,” said Lille. “If I’m travelling from Vienna to Paris I want to see air and rail options side by side – that is difficult to find today.”
In addition, said Lille, “rail tickets are often only available through operators’ proprietary systems. It’s going to require comprehensive integration”.
In the conference’s opening session, Diemer also drew attention to the EU’s Count Emissions EU initiative which recently ended public consultation and is expected to report before the end of the year.
“All large companies are under pressure to account for their carbon emissions and from Brussels there will be legislation coming across Europe on how this is going to be done,” said Diemer.
“We will have a legal standard for how CO2 emissions are going to be computed which we as travel managers should embrace because there are too many different methodologies across the industry. Of course, the detail of this will be critical.”
BT4Europe has called for all travel service suppliers to be obliged through legislation to supply customers with emissions reports “at no cost to corporates”.
Diemer concluded: “These legislations will happen with us or without us, but now we have an opportunity to raise the voice specifically of travel buyers, not just the suppliers who are already well represented with their industry bodies in Brussels.”