Economic Uncertainty Eclipses COVID-19 Concerns in Business Travel Industry
The last quarter of a calendar year is typically busy and productive for business travel and travelers. But in a time when so much isn’t back to being completely typical, where does the recovery of business travel stand now?
The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the world’s business travel industry association, recently released the 2022 Business Travel Recovery Poll, unveiling the latest insights from a survey of almost 600 business travel buyers, suppliers, and other stakeholders around the world. This survey marks the 29th poll in the GBTA series since the pandemic began to understand the path forward as the industry navigates recovery.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the poll:
- Business travel volume continues to rebound when tracking recovery to 2019 pre-pandemic levels. On average, travel managers estimate their company’s domestic business travel volume is back to 63% and international business travel is back to 50% of their 2019 pre-pandemic levels. In addition, 26% of respondents estimate their international business travel volume has recovered to more than 70% of their company’s pre-pandemic levels.
- Economic considerations have eclipsed COVID-19 concerns for the industry, but a majority of companies are not limiting their business travel specifically due to economic concerns. When asked to choose among factors that are more likely to limit business travel next year, 80% of travel suppliers say economic conditions, while only 4% cited COVID-19. However, 75% of travel buyers surveyed say their company had no immediate plans to limit business travel because of economic concerns. One-third (30%) say their company is unlikely to limit business travel, while 45% say they are taking a wait-and-see approach, but are not seriously considering limiting business travel at this point due to economic concerns.
- Domestic travel recovery remains in the lead in terms of recovery, but international travel is closing the gap. Currently, 86% of survey respondents say non-essential domestic business travel is sometimes or usually allowed at their company. Additionally, 74% say the same for non-essential international business travel.
- By far, business travel respondents expect more recovery and growth for 2023 compared to this year. Over three-fourths (78%) of travel managers expect the number of business trips taken by employees at their company will be higher or much higher in 2023 vs. 2022. Among travel suppliers, 85% expect the number of bookings by corporate clients will be higher or much higher in 2023. Additionally, 80% of suppliers expect travel spending by corporate clients will be higher or much higher in 2023 year over year.
- Over 65% of travel managers are optimistic that their company will conduct more internal travel and external travel. Internal travel was defined as meetings with colleagues or working at other company office locations, while external travel examples are trips for sales meetings and conference travel.
“We continue to see progress as business travel makes its way back to being a $1.4 trillion global industry, pre-pandemic. It is also important to understand the context of global business travel’s recovery. Asia is still opening its borders, international business travel in general started picking up only earlier this year across the globe, and the U.S. has only permitted unrestricted travel since June,” says Suzanne Neufang, GBTA CEO. “Even as this latest poll shows economic considerations have eclipsed COVID-19 concerns, the industry is showing positive indicators and sentiment for 2023, a strong sign as business travel continues to come back over time.”
Tracking the Business Travel Impact of Remote Work and Blended Travel
The GBTA also continues to follow how evolving developments related to the future of work and changing workforces might play out in the global business travel landscape.
The global travel industry does not expect new ways of working to significantly impact business travel. But the industry is embracing remote work models (88%), as 68% of respondents say their company has a hybrid approach where employees are expected to report to the office on some days and 20% indicate their company is working “full-time remote.” An additional 12% say they are “full-time in office.”
Of those with a hybrid or full-time remote work policy, 72% of respondents do not expect flexibility to work from home will impact the number of business trips taken by their employees. Additionally, 14% expect it will lead to more business travel, while an identical percent expect it will lead to less business travel.
How are companies approaching employee remote work, and blended or “bleisure” travel? For companies that allow hybrid or fully remote work, 44% say employees are allowed to work for extended periods outside of the city, state or province where they are typically based. This also includes 22% that even allow employees to work for an extended period outside of their home-base country. Many travel managers also report they are seeing a rise in the desire for blended or bleisure travel among employees. Two in five travel managers (41%) have seen an increase in employees asking for blended travel, whereby they combine a business trip with a vacation or leisure component.