The new epicentre of business travel
Arriving at Delhi's brand new, light-filled, state-of-the-art Terminal 3 at Indira Gandhi International Airport.
If you like new hotels, shiny airplanes, fast trains, freshly paved roads and modern, efficient airports, set your sights on India or China — two countries that seem to be emerging as centres of the business travel universe.
Just last week, ANA launched the long-awaited first commercial flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the busy route between Tokyo and Hong Kong, a city that is expected to see a 12% increase in business travellers by the end of 2011. In the same week, Lufthansa announced it would deploy the first upgraded 747s -- with a first class configuration that includes a bed and a seat -- on flights from Frankfurt to Mumbai and Delhi. Emirates, which saw its revenue from India grow by 24% in 2010, now flies to ten Indian cities from its hub in nearby Dubai.
Hotel companies are also jumping into China and India’s rapidly expanding markets. In 2010, there were nearly 1,000 hotels under construction across China — with 450 to open this year and another 290 in 2012 according to the Institute of Hospitality. India will see 88 new hotels by the end of 2011 and 91 in 2012. Raymond Bickson, CEO of Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, India’s largest hotel company, said he has opened a new hotel every six weeks since joining the company in 2003. In October, MGM Hospitality announced that it intends to build three giant Las Vegas-style hotels — an MGM Grand, a Bellagio and a Skylofts hotel -- in Mumbai.
Of equal importance to hotel companies is the rapidly rising number of affluent Indian and Chinese travellers venturing beyond their borders. Starwood and Hilton recently launched new efforts to appeal to Chinese guests by expanding breakfast menus to include items like fried bread and congee, and hiring more Chinese-speaking staff. According to a recent study commissioned by Hilton Hotels and Resorts, the total number of outbound Chinese tourists reached 57 million in 2010, an increase of more than 20% from 2009.
At the Paris Air Show last June, the five-year-old IndiGo, India’s largest low-fare carrier, placed an order with Airbus for 180 new planes valued at $15.6 billion, which at the time was considered the largest aircraft order in history. China’s airlines are expected to order more than 2,000 aircraft over the next five years.
In September, news leaked that China has started construction of Beijing’s third major airport in nearby Daxing — just three years after christening the humongous Beijing Capital International Airport (which also includes the world’s largest airport terminal building). When the new airport opens in 2015, it’s expected to handle about 150 million passengers annually, beating the number one ranked Atlanta, which currently handles about 90 million passengers each year, according to the Airports Council International.
According to the Center for Aviation, weekly flight frequencies between Mumbai and Delhi have increased 383% since 1995. Frequencies between Shenzhen (near Hong Kong) and Beijing are up 383% for the same period; between Shenzhen and Shanghai, frequencies are up an astounding 1,064%.
India is about to complete the first phase of a massive $7 billion national highway project that connects the country’s four major cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Despite recent hiccups, China now operates the world’s largest network of high-speed trains, with more than 6,000km in operation, compared to Spain, which has the second largest network with 2,600km of track.
To keep up with the skyrocketing demand for both domestic and international flights, Indian airports are getting a major makeover. While the revamp of Mumbai’s Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport is still in the works, airports in key business travel cities such as Bangalore, Delhi and Hyderabad are all brand new, state-of the-art facilities that have opened in the last three years.
“The economic conditions in China and India are helping to drive business opportunities and thus generating business travel activity because companies want to get their people where the business opportunities are,” said Christa Degnan Manning director of research for American Express Global Business Travel. According to the 2012 American Express Business Travel Forecast, the demand in these countries is also leading to higher prices and fuelling new competition among travel suppliers.
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Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel