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Virgin Entrepreneur

Start-ups go global as business travel continues to rise

By Alison Coleman

The age of faster, more affordable air travel has made the world a smaller place.
Journeys to the other side of the world that once took several days – I can still recall an arduous three-day flight on a Boeing 707 to Australia in 1967 - can now be completed in less than one.

But, some of the biggest benefits of modern-day flight can be claimed by the business world. For many entrepreneurs, the greater freedom of the skies has helped their own businesses to fly. It has been said that business travel is the lifeblood of a prosperous economy, and as trade becomes increasingly global, air transport becomes ever more crucial to business success.

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More and more business owners now rely on good flight services to keep in touch with their customers, suppliers and business partners all over the world. Air travel has also
brought business to smaller, more remote destinations that might not have had a
tourism industry at all before, giving locals the chance to set up enterprises that provide a range of services for foreigners and generating fresh income streams.

And while technology has gone a long way to providing instant, cheap, virtual global
communications, for businesses forging links in countries on the other side of the world, air travel is their only realistic option for that all important face-to-face contact. And a physical presence can make or break a high profile business deal.

Tim Taylor co director of leadership consultancy, Making Great Leaders says: "While we have Skype, FaceTime, 4G, and lower cost calls we know that other businesses will be more inclined to do business with you if they feel that you're more available. "The more available and willing you are to see them face-to-face will improve their likelihood on calling on and engaging you. This has had hugely positive impact, particularly for service-based companies."

Not surprisingly, long haul business traffic is seeing strong growth. Even for shorter
journeys, alternative modes of travel often prove too slow or expensive to offer a viable alternative to flying.

The liberalisation of air travel has done far more than for SMEs than simply help them
strengthen their client relations. For many, it has been the catalyst for expanding into a global operation, as was the case for London-based commercial property specialists DeVono.

Director Adam Landau says: "We have offices in a number of European and American
cities, and the ease at which we are able to jump on a flight to visit colleagues, without breaking the bank, goes a long way towards making a globally expanding business possible. In years gone by it was the preserve of big corporates who could afford flights to their satellite offices. Now SMEs can do the same, and this gives them a huge advantage."

Air travel has also proved to be the transport mode of choice for exporters of high value and low volume shipments for a number of reasons.

When goods need to be moved quickly, sending them by air is the fastest, and arguably the most reliable option. Airlines are constantly expanding their destination networks, providing transport links to a growing number of overseas markets.

Faster transit times by air have reduced the need for local warehousing services
and huge amounts of stock. Goods transported by air also tend to require less heavy
packaging than for other modes, for example, sea transport, saving businesses
significant costs in time and money.

Business travel spend is set to increase this year, however, research from Priority Pass, part of the Collinson Group, which provides frequent travellers with airport lounge access, suggests that expectations among the UK's most frequent business travellers are changing.

In a survey by the Business Travel Show, a third (33 per cent) of European business
travel buyers admitted to having more money to spend. The Priority Pass data backs this up, showing that the UK’s frequent flyers will take an average of 5.8 business trips and 3.5 leisure flights this year.

However, the majority of these travellers are not looking to spend their money on flying first class, or checking into five star hotels. Instead they are planning to enhance their work trips with experience-based benefits, such as access to spas, top restaurants and cultural events.

And for the local businesses that will be providing these products and services, an
increase in business air travel can only be a good thing.