A sharp decline in business travel visits over the last six months does not reflect the level of activity in the Scottish MICE sector, industry chiefs have said.

National statistics released yesterday showed a stark drop off in the number of ‘business travel’ visits from January to June this year – compared to 2016.

The figures, compiled by the Office for National Statistics as part of international and domestic tourism surveys, showed a fall of 46.8% for business travellers coming to Scotland – from 1.094m to 582,000 year-on-year.

Data also showed a large fall in business travel spend for the first half of the year in 2016 to 2017 – from £319m to £152m.

VisitScotland – which has hailed the ‘spectacular growth’ levels in overall international tourism to the country with day trip and holiday market figures showing a rise in visitors by 9.3% and 4.6% respectively in the first six months of the year – said business travel had been affected for a “number of reasons”, including the growth in technology and economic uncertainty.

A spokesperson said: “Business travel has been affected for a number of reasons. Firstly, in a digital age of teleconferencing, Skype and Facebook Live, many are finding that they simply don’t need to make longer distance trips out of the office.

“Secondly, private sector businesses are being more cautious with their spending due to wider economic conditions. We have to be careful not to confuse ‘people who travel for business’ with ‘Business Tourism’, however, which is still a booming sector as Scotland continues to prove its worth on the world stage as a deliverer of major business events and conferences.”

The spokesperson added: “Our enquiry numbers show that the Meeting Incentives Conferences and Events market in Scotland is growing year on year from UK and international event planners. Due to increase in airline connectivity and accessibility in the last few years, North America and Germany represent particularly high growth markets. Not only does business tourism benefit Scotland economically – causing a ripple effect that touches every industry, business and community in the country, from laundry services to life sciences – hosting prestigious professional conferences boosts the reputation of the country in that field of expertise, which can lead to future inward investment.”

Leading destination management companies (DMCs) in Scotland also said that the figures did not reflect their experience of the current market.

Andrew Burnet, Managing Director of Andrew Burnet & Co, said: “Business Travel in my book is classed as individual or very small corporate groups with a specific need in the destination, generally hotel accommodation.

“The imbalance could possibly be down to MICE groups displacing business individuals which is a positive thing if basing it on overall revenue generated by both segments.”
Bill Thomson, Founder of fellow DMC Hello Scotland, agreed and made the the same distinction in the market.
The headline international passenger survey statistics also capture a wide range of business travel purposes, including haulage, distribution and freight, which accounts for 25% of all business travel visits.