One can be forgiven to think that there is not the need to further emphasise the importance of Asia, particularly China, in the future of the global economy, but the truth is no one really knows how things are going to play out, especially with the continued volatility of the eurozone. That's the message that came across in a Hong Kong luncheon last week by The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), held at the Mandarin Oriental and attended by many corporate travel professionals/buyers who are target members of the organisation.
GBTA has recently set up an Asia-Pacific office in Bangkok, with travel industry veteran Welf Ebeling as its director. As reported earlier, it has recently published a report about the growth of business travel in China, which is expected to surpass the US as number one in terms of spending in corporate travel (see story here). But at his presentation, Ebeling admitted that unpredictable factors in the global economy, especially with the unfolding drama in the eurozone, meant that the follow-up report, expected in six months, might paint a different picture.
"As we stand today, when you just saw what happened to the Spanish banks over the last couple of days, and China’s own immediate response of lowering the interest rate, all of these are components that this report has not yet taken into consideration. The forecast is almost changing on a daily basis; this is not a one-off report but a work in progress," he said. "If there is a crash in the European economy, China will catch a bad cold, as Europe is its key export market."
Already, he said, the expected GDP growth for China this year has been adjusted to 8.4 per cent, after the country clocked in 9.4 per cent last year. Still, he added, the potential of China is undeniable, especially with the development of the secondary and tertiary cities. "Shanghai and Beijing are only two cities in that whole vast China, when you think about the capital of all the industrial development in secondary and tertiery locations in China, that's really where the focus is going to be," he said. "If you are looking at business travel, you just have to see where groups like Langham and Shangri-La are opening - they are going to places such as Wuhan."
And that presents a challenge to an organisation like GBTA, Ebeling pointed out. "While in Shanghai and Beijing, you basically know who the people dealing with business travel purchasing are, in the secondary and tertiary markets that has to be identified. That's where we bring in education, and really impress on these people who are managing billion-dollar budgets. They need help, they need expertise," he said. "There is a growing recognition that business travel expenses have to be better managed, and it is a profession in itself."
For more about the organisation, visit www.gbta.org. For more Business Traveller reports on the exponential growth of China's travel industry, click here.