Scotland improves on business travel offering

Transporting the musicians and instruments of the RSNO requires serious planning.
Transporting the musicians and instruments of the RSNO requires serious planning.
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Of the 12 million trips made by domestic visitors to Scotland in 2013-15, 1.73m were classified as business travel. That’s 14 per cent of the total number of domestic tourist trips made to Scotland. Whether you are travelling to or from Scotland on business, it is the job of airlines, rail operators, terminal staff and taxi drivers to make the journey as stress free as possible so that you arrive at your destination ready to work.

Wi-fi access and workstations are becoming almost a prerequisite on trains and in airports.

Flexible working is a trend that’s taking hold across a range of industries. Mobile technology has raised expectations of availability and, as such, business travellers need the facilities to stay calm and connected throughout their journey.

“There are two things that our business passengers are always asking us for,” explains Rob Lang, head of marketing at Edinburgh Airport.

“One is speed and efficiency and the other is choice. That’s choice of destinations that the carriers are flying to and it’s choice of retail outlets because business travellers are generally time poor and do their shopping at the airport.”

In response to customer demand, Edinburgh Airport revamped its retail offering last year. For business passengers, speed is of the essence with a fast track lane taking them direct from the car park to security and provides live updates on the airport’s website to keep travellers updated on the time it will take to get through the scanners.

“We have also brought in things like the family line to improve efficiency,” says Lang. “It’s about making sure that families have that breathing space to relax and get through without too much stress and that business travellers can get through as fast as they want.

“We are increasing the seating within the departure lounge. We have the much-loved USB charging points for phones and wi-fi has almost become a hygiene factor for people.

“We give everyone two hours’ free wi-fi and that takes some of the stress out of the journey. We are the first hello and the last goodbye for a lot of business people flying through.”

For some, business travel is more complicated than getting a person from A to B.

Employing a travel management firm to handle the planning is one way businesses can be sure they are getting the best price, most direct route and the insights of an experienced professional.

“We have a whole range of accounts with all different industries from finance to drinks companies,” says Jon Grosse, groups manager at Glasgow-based Stewart Travel Management.

“I have had experience of dealing with travel for the arts for over 20 years and companies like to work with someone with experience who knows what they are talking about.

“A lot of orchestras will have a truck for the big instruments if they are travelling in Europe, but if they are going further afield then everything has to go on the plane. You are talking about double basses and snare drums and that all has to go as cargo on the aircraft.”

He says the biggest trend in the last ten to 15 years has been the move by airlines to cut costs, which in turn has meant increased restrictions on hand luggage allowances.

“We are in an age now where it’s such a competitive market in the airline industry that it’s about getting people on the plane rather than anything out of the ordinary,” says Grosse.

“There has been a big switch to airlines charging more for excess baggage. Historically you would have had the full-service airlines with all sorts of departments to look after that side of things.”

Logistical challenges aside, lower cost and more readily available travel means more people are on the move for work than ever.

Then there are additional flight routes in and out of Scottish airports and improved infrastructure on the ground – the £41 million Edinburgh Gateway station opened in December, plugging the airport into the national rail network.

“More and more people are travelling in the corporate world,” says Grosse. “It’s definitely becoming more affordable.”

Orchestral manoeuvres

It’s one thing catching the “red-eye” to London City on a Monday morning armed only with a laptop case and overnight bag. For some business travellers, it’s a whole different – and often far more complicated – story and that’s certainly the case with Scotland’s performing arts industry.

Travelling for work as a large group and with bulky equipment takes some serious planning.

“We normally start planning around two years in advance,” says Nick Lander, director of presentation and operations at the RSNO.

“The size of the party is generally in the region of 100-110 bodies and that includes the orchestra and the orchestra support staff.”

When performing in Europe, the instruments travel overland in a temperature-controlled lorry which is cheaper and safer than checking them on to a flight but does take time.

“For the recent tour to Spain, we had a rehearsal in Glasgow on the Saturday afternoon and a rehearsal in Alicante on the Monday,” says Lander.

“From a musician’s point of view, that’s fine; they all just turned up at the airport on the Sunday evening. For the freight, we had four or five tonnes on this trip and it’s a 25-hour drive from Calais to Alicante so we had to plan for that.”

For international performances, flying freight is the only option. Lander says transporting the RSNO’s instruments to China can cost about £100,000.

“One of the biggest concerns that the musicians have is that the instruments are going to make it through the trip.

“They have a huge amount of love and finance invested in those instruments. There are players who will never, ever put their instruments in the freight and we just have to deal with that.

“We do buy seats for cellos if we need to. It’s a stressful thing being without your instrument for a couple of days.

“It has travelled across the sea and snow-covered peaks and has arrived in the south of Spain and you just hope it’s going to be alright.

“We had two cracks on the recent Spanish tour just because of the humidity levels of the venues in Spain. It can be very distressing for the musicians depending on the severity of the damage.”

The next stop for the RSNO is the US, where every instrument has to be thoroughly checked before it can fly to ensure it’s not “infected” with substances like ivory and tortoiseshell which can’t be brought into the country.

This article appears in the SPRING 2017 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.