David Chapple, group portfolio director for The Business Travel Show, discusses the show’s 25th anniversary, and takes a look at the history of the business travel industry.
How did you celebrate the anniversary in the lead up and at the show?
The last 25 years have been quite a journey so we spent time looking back at travel over the past 25 years and reminiscing about how things have changed. A few of our exhibitors and visitors have been to all of our events, which is quite something, and we invited the show’s founder Ian Dockreay to cut the cake with us, which we handed out after the Disrupt final.
Travel has certainly changed a lot in that time and, while we wanted to recognise that, we also wanted to focus on the future so we launched this year’s show with a Travel 2022 theme and tied a lot of the content to this.
We launched the WonderLAB, which looked to the past, present and future of business travel, and we had a record number of start-ups and entrepreneurs taking part in our Disrupt Launchpad this year – 12 in total. We also featured a lot of forward-looking sessions in our conference programme to inspire travel managers to think more long-term.
How has the show evolved over the last 25 years?
Well, it started off as a small hotel event in 1994, and now it’s by far the biggest event in Europe for travel buyers and managers with around 8,000 attendees and over 200 exhibitors. We’ve been at four or five different venues, including Business Design Centre, Olympia National Hall and Earls Court 2, but the Grand and West Halls at Olympia have been home for quite a few years now and we will be returning 26-27 February 2020 for show number 26.
The biggest change over the years was the introduction of our hosted buyer programme, which brings more than 400 of Europe’s top travel managers to the show, each of whom has a budget in excess (often well in excess) of £1 million p/a. The diary system that operates alongside the programme ensures that our buyers meet the right suppliers, our exhibitors meet the buyers with big budgets, and business is done at the show. The travel industry is a lot of fun, but business is serious and it’s critical that we continue to bring high quality visitors to the show. Quantity comes a very poor second place to quality for our exhibitors.
How has the business travel industry evolved over the years?
Back in 1994, when Business Travel Show started, travel was a completely different beast – an analogue version of the smart, technology-driven sector it is today. Everything was printed – boarding passes, train tickets, itineraries. Hotel keys were the size of door handles (sometimes, they even were door handles).
There were mobile phones and laptops, but just take a look at these – ‘Nokia 2140’ and ‘IBM ThinkPad 360c’– and you’ll see how un-business-traveller-friendly they were. So, instead of catching up with email on that long-haul business trip, it seems the business traveller of the day simply chilled out and lit up. Yep, that’s right, smoking wasn’t banned on international flights until 2000.
Since then, we’ve welcomed budget airlines, Uber and Airbnb, NDC, OBTs, OTAs, VR, AR, AI and a whole host of other acronyms to the unique business travel lexicon.
What will the next 25 years hold?
In terms of business travel, it’s impossible to predict 25 years ahead but, over the next five years, we will see travel impacted by facial recognition, driverless cars, Blockchain, hyperloops, more biometric technology (ie eyes and fingerprints used in place of passports), galactic or supersonic options, smarter algorithms allowing for ultra-personalisation pre-trip and in-destination recommendations, voice enabled technology transforming how travellers search and book. Oh, and we’ll be cashless.
It would be nice to think Business Travel Show still exists by then, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for the sector as well as the event.