Travel growth in Europe ‘a pleasant surprise’, says Sabre

The travel sector in Europe has confounded expectations and continued to grow this year despite the ongoing recession in many markets, according to GDS and technology provider Sabre.

Sam Gilliland, Sabre chairman and chief executive, said Europe was seeing at least mid single digit growth, better than the firm’s “softest market”; the US where growth remains weak.

“We have seen a lot of resilience in our business and in the travel business more broadly,” he said. “Certainly we have seen the economic impact of 2008 and some fairly significant recessionary impacts on the economy.

“But we have managed to grow our way out of that as an industry and as a company and we have seen slow growth, slow recovery but recovery nonetheless.

“We are especially pleased to see growth in Europe and Latin America. It’s a bit of a surprise given the challenges in Europe.

“But we have seen quite good growth, some through taking market share, but we are also seeing underlying strength in the travel business there which is a bit odd given the headlines about the economy in Europe.”

Gilliland said Sabre had been keeping a close eye on how September bookings were faring to see if business travel would bounce back after the summer.

“We have seen strong volumes as we enter September which is good to see. It’s something as a company you worry about because as you enter autumn you see businesses concerned about economic growth and what their decisions are about discretionary spend from a business travel perspective.

“The good news is after the 2008 impact, which was fairly dramatic on business travel, we have seen a different attitude during the course of this year with many chief financial officers recognising that in order to drive revenues you need people out there doing business.”

Sabre said its growth in the markets in which it operates is usually expected to be “a slight multiple on top of GDP growth”.

This means that its US business has seen only low single digit percentage growth for the last two years while Europe has recorded mid single digit growth and better, Gilliland said.

Latin America has been growing the fastest, however, with growth of between10% and 19%.

Greg Webb, Sabre Travel Network president, said: “There has long been a myth that people only travel when the economy is good.

“That’s not true. People travel when they feel like the economy is good – it’s a perception issue. The reality is that a number of European economies are not doing that well but people feel there is the beginning of a slow recovery and feel that the efforts that they make in terms of customer-facing business travel are worth it at the moment.

“On the leisure travel side we expected to see significant fall off but it just did not materialise that way.

“It’s a combination of the fact that individual companies are not doing as badly as originally expected and people are not feeling the pain they were a couple of years ago.”

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