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Airport watchdog questions future of business travel at Stansted

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Stansted Airport Watch (SAW) has questioned the potential for business travel to bounce back at the Uttlesford hub.

The campaigning group, formerly known as Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) believes a lasting legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic will be continuing reliance on video meetings online.

SAW chairman Brian Ross commented: "Business travel has been declining for many years alongside the improvement in video-conferencing technology and the pandemic has accelerated that trend. Airlines depend on business travel for a significant proportion of their profits and so it's bound to be a worry for them if they are facing a major permanent decline."

Brian Ross. SSE. ..Pic: Vikki Lince. (54846436)
Brian Ross. SSE. ..Pic: Vikki Lince. (54846436)

As a result of the coronavirus crisis Stansted Airport handled just 7.1m passengers in 2021, the lowest number since 1998.

Prior to the pandemic in 2019, Stansted handled 28.1m - four times as many as last year - and that pattern has been repeated at other UK airports.

Figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that both outbound and inbound tourism have declined by about 75% because of the pandemic.

Stansted Airport terminal (54846441)
Stansted Airport terminal (54846441)

Mr Ross said this decline in tourism had unexpected benefits for the UK economy, with a favourable impact on the balance of payments of £26 billion in 2020, and a similar figure expected in 2021.

He said much of this money, which would normally have been spent on overseas holidays had been diverted to the UK economy for home improvements, furnishings and breaks in this country instead, adding VAT to the Exchequer.

Mr Ross acknowledged that it was widely expected that overseas tourism would recover strongly as travel restrictions ease, but he pointed to analysis that a quarter of business travel was gone for good.

The pandemic has shown companies that many journeys can easily be replaced by Zoom meetings and business leaders have also identified that reducing such flights improves productivity and generates substantial savings.

Charlie Cornish (54846450)
Charlie Cornish (54846450)

In addition, almost all major UK PLCs now have a commitment to help tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions and one of the best ways to do this was to reduce business flights, he said.

Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which operates Stansted along with Manchester and East Midlands airports, has not responded directly to SAW's claims.

However after the Government further eased Covid-19 travel restrictions, MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish made his optimism clear.

"With Britain reopened for business, we're looking forward to helping people across the country get back to visiting exciting new places, finding fresh trading opportunities overseas and travelling to see friends and loved ones again."

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