Written evidence from the Guild of Travel
Management Companies (HSR 74)|
1. The Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC)
welcomes the Committee's inquiry into High-Speed Rail, an issue
of considerable interest to our members and to the UK-based business
travellers whose interests they represent.
2. The GTMC is the UK's leading professional
body for corporate travel management companies. Our diverse membership
accounts for over 80% of UK expenditure on managed business travel,
delivering value for money and extensive services to business
travellers in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.
As such we are the voice of business travel.
3. This submission addresses only those questions
which directly concern UK business travellers. It draws both on
exclusive GTMC member transaction data (produced each quarter)
and on two annual surveys of business traveller opinion conducted
by the GTMC in late 2009 and late 2010.
What are the main arguments for and against?
4. Business travellers, judged both on how they
actually choose to travel and on their expressed preferences,
increasingly favour rail travel where it is a viable option. This
applies both to UK domestic journeys and to travel to the near-
Continent. For example, between the GTMC's 2008 and 2009 annual
transaction surveys, the only area of activity which showed an
increase in the number of transactions booked by the GTMC member
companies was rail travel (13% increase). Other categories such
as air travel and hotel bookings fell by roughly the same proportion.
To some extent this reflects the post-crash economic downturn.
But it also reflects a growing readiness to travel by rail in
the UK and to Paris and Brussels by Eurostar, especially following
the opening of HS1 and the consequent reduction in journey times.
5. In both the GTMC Business Traveller Surveys
(2009 and 2010), High-Speed Rail was ranked first among 7 or 8
possible infrastructure improvements which would "make the
biggest difference for business travellers in your organisation".
It was judged significantly more important than both Crossrail
and airport expansion in the South-east. The full tables are below;
|High Speed Rail link||1st
|Major motorway improvements||2nd
|Expansion of UK regional airports||3rd
|Mainline rail station improvements||4th
|London Crossrail including link into Heathrow
|Expansion of South East airports||6th
|Building a Thames Estuary airport||7th
6. All of this strongly underpins the contention that business
travellers see High-Speed Rail as the major priority for transport
infrastructure investment in the UK.
What are the implications for domestic aviation?
7. The overwhelming barrier to modal shift of business travellers
away from air to rail is journey times. In the GTMC's most recent
business traveller survey (2010), exactly half of respondents
gave "Air is quicker than rail travel" as the main reason
why they sometimes chose to travel by air rather than rail within
the UK. (The same conclusion would undoubtedly apply to near-Continent
journeys also.) The complexity of journeys and timetabling challenges
were the only other factors to be widely mentioned. Frequent high-speed
city centre-city centre services are likely to attract significant
numbers of business travellers away from air to rail.
8. The big prize in modal shift terms is of course to substitute
significant numbers of Glasgow and Edinburgh to London flights
with rail journeys. The envisaged journey times of 3 hrs 15 mins
(saving around 45 mins) from both Scottish cities to London would
achieve this, provided that there is a frequent, reliable and
9. There is always likely to be a need for EnglandScotland
flights, not least for connecting to flights at Heathrow (though
this is partially dependent on the decision made regarding a Heathrow
connection to HS2). However, provided that HS2 is continued beyond
Birmingham to Glasgow, there would be reductions in flights with
consequent reduced emissions and the freeing-up of slots at London
airports. In theory this would enable expansion of air services
to global business destinations within existing airport capacity
in the South-east.
10. Of key importance however will be how affordable the service
is. Cost remains an imposing consideration when it comes to business
travel choice (37% of Business Traveller Survey respondents identified
cost of travel as the most important factor). Equally our data
shows that the vast majority of business travellers by train use
standard class as further evidence that they continue to factor
in price when deciding on modal choice. If trying to break the
habits travellers used to using air routes within the UK ensuring
that the price of high speed rail services is competitive will
11. As should be clear from the above, it is journey times
which dictate rates of modal shift for business travellers. Upgrading
the WCML further or building additional conventional capacity
would be most unlikely to achieve significant reductions in journey
times and would therefore do little or nothing to entice business
travellers away from domestic flights. Indeed, given the challenges
in building any new rail line at all, there seems little point
in overcoming these difficulties only to build a conventional
12. Managing demand by increasing fares would seem to be a
throwback to the bad old days of rail planning. What is badly
needed now is investment in the rail network. Passenger figures
indicate that there is an increased appetite for rail travel.
As the road and especially motorway network becomes ever more
congested, travellers, both business and leisure, will want to
turn in increasing numbers to rail. Increased rail fares on conventional
services would certainly push business people back into their
cars or leave them flying domestically, with consequent adverse
13. Furthermore, it is questionable how much room for fare
increases exists. The GTMC's surveys of business travellers suggest
that they are broadly satisfied with the cost of advance tickets,
but in 2010 54% of those surveyed were "not very" or
"not at all satisfied" with the cost of tickets booked
near to the time of travel. Any increase in "walk-on"
fares would be like to push more short-notice journeys onto planes
or into cars or perversely prove an additional burden on UK business
people who often have to embark on journeys where there is little
notice and consequently reduced ability to access low fares.
The Strategic Route
14. It will already be apparent that for the business traveller
journey time is all-important. Accordingly, whilst accessibility
has to be balanced with speed, the fewer stops there are outside
the main business centres, the better. The GTMC would not therefore
support additional intermediate stations. Equally it is important
that the vocal, and politically sensitive, opposition along the
proposed route is respectfully engaged with but is not allowed
to undermine a project that is of national importance nor to compromise
the key factor of journey time in order to bypass such opposition.
15. Business travellers supported the WCML option for HS2
over the ECML by a margin of more than 3 to 2. If a decision were
to arise regarding prioritisation of build the GTMC would most
strongly support completion of the London-Glasgow route as the
16. In support of this strategy, the GTMC would therefore
like to see an early start on the Glasgow end of HS2, and urges
the Committee to recommend that DfT begin discussions now with
the Scottish Government to help bring this about. GTMC is concerned
that HS2 might end at Birmingham or Manchester and that the vital
link to Scotland might not be built or only after decades of delay.
17. GTMC's 2010 Business Traveller Survey directly asked respondents
how important it would be for HS2 to link directly into Heathrow
in order to encourage modal shift. The results showed that there
was a distinct preference (64%) for a network which linked directly
into Heathrow. Based on this clear steer the GTMC strongly urges
the Government to make the transition from HS2 to Heathrow as
seamless as possible and include a direct link.