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Business travel soars in O.C.

The segment now represents 46 percent of traffic at John Wayne Airport.

By Elaine Murphy
Travelers taking to the skies at John Wayne Airport are seeing something that bodes well for the economy: a greater number of “suits” boarding the jets – which suits everyone just fine.

A biannual passenger survey conducted by Irvine-based market research firm Redhill Group and published in February found that business travel now accounts for 46 percent of traffic into and out of the SNA. That shakes out to a 9 percent increase from the previous survey’s results.

This shift marks a return to a pre-recession air travel norm: Traditionally, about half of the airport’s travelers fly for business purposes. In 2007, before the recession reared its ugly head, business-related travel accounted for 42 percent of all flights, but that figure dropped to 37 percent in 2009 due to the weak economy. A slow recovery began in 2010 and gained strength through 2011 and into this year, compelling companies to allow more travel back into their budgets.

“Business travel is highly correlated with economic activity,” says Esmael Adibi, director of the A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research at Chapman University in Orange. “Businesses that previously curtailed travel to cut costs have
now started to resume travel as the economy improves.”

The jump in business travel is beneficial for local businesses and other establishments, including airlines, hotels, restaurants and convention centers.

“Trade shows, conventions and meetings are an important process in business and are once again being incorporated into company strategies and marketing plans in higher numbers,” says Elaine Cali, vice president of communications for the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau (AOCVCB).

The rise in business travel has not had an adverse effect on tourism; the two are complementary, and BOTH are highly correlated with the economy. According to a 2011 AOCVCB report, area visitors increased by .2 million from 2010 – a slight but noticeable upturn.

“Business and leisure travelers around the airport area usually have different travel patterns … so they complement each other and give the local hotels and other firms a more even business flow,” says Cali.