Business travel’s return remains strong, while emerging issues challenge accelerated recovery and companies empower employee travel based on COVID comfort levels, according to the latest research poll from GBTA
Alexandria, VA – There’s more on the minds of the business travel industry these days beyond COVID-19 when it comes to the sector’s continued recovery. The return of global business travel remains strong – this month a majority of global travel managers surveyed report their companies are allowing domestic and international employee travel, and travel suppliers continue to cite increased travel bookings from their corporate customers. Conference attendance is also back – stronger than in 2019 as an overall share of business travel budgets.
Current affairs and economic concerns, however, are also now in the mix and are having a significant impact on travel programs, according to industry stakeholders. And as the world starts traveling for work again, companies are also considering their policies for employees who aren’t quite ready to get back on the road or in the air.
These are the key findings from the June 2022 Business Travel Recovery Poll, the 28th in a series from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the world’s premier association serving the business travel industry. GBTA has been regularly surveying business travel buyers, suppliers, and other stakeholders around the world since the pandemic began to understand the path forward as the industry navigates recovery.
“As COVID-19 becomes more manageable in many regions, companies and employees are getting back to traveling for business, fueled by the need to get back to business. We are now seeing, however, other factors beyond COVID-19 coming into play that could affect the speed and trajectory of recovery for business travel as we head into the second half of 2022,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA.
Here are the highlights from GBTA’s June Business Travel Recovery poll:
• DOMESTIC TRAVEL OUT IN FRONT, INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL CONTINUES TO FOLLOW. A majority of business travel industry respondents report non-essential domestic business travel is sometimes or usually allowed (89%) at their company, along with non-essential international business travel (78%). This continues to be consistent with similar recovery figures in the April 2022 GBTA poll. Overall optimism in the business travel industry also continues – more than four in five travel suppliers (88%) report they feel more optimistic compared to a month ago (which aligns with 86% in the April poll). Few (4%) say they feel more pessimistic about the path to recovery.
• TRAVEL BOOKINGS CONTINUE TO REBOUND. Most travel suppliers and travel management companies (84%) report their bookings have increased compared to the previous month (compared to a similar strong showing of 85% in the April poll).
• THE ISSUES “DU JOUR” FOR TRAVEL MANAGERS. The pandemic is not the only – or even the top – issue travel managers are juggling right now. Corporate travel buyers cite government policies/restrictions (43%), COVID infection rates (38%) and staffing shortages (33%) as having a significant impact on their corporate travel programs. Rounding out the top six for travel buyers in terms of top impacts to their programs include supply chain bottlenecks (30%), inflation (28%) and oil prices (27%).
• TRAVEL SUPPLIERS HAVE ISSUES, TOO. Travel suppliers share some of the same challenges, but also some that differ, from travel managers. They report their travel programs are most impacted by staffing shortages (51%), inflation (37%), government restrictions and COVID infection rates and variants (tie 36%). Rounding out their top of their list are oil prices (33%), strength of the economy/risk of recession (33%) and increased wage demands (31%).
• 2022 TRAVEL SPENDING IN A WORD: MEETINGS. In-person meetings are on the top of the list for where companies are allocating their business travel spend this year. With customer and prospect meetings (31%); conferences, trade shows, and industry events (21%); and internal meetings with colleagues (17%) earmarked for a fair majority of their travel spend, it’s clear that face-to-face gatherings are seen as key to company strategies, objectives, and culture. And spending for conferences specifically, as a share of overall business travel spend, is expected to be up 4 percentage points in 2022 compared to 2019.
• WHO’S TRAVELING NOW. On average, respondents estimate a third (33%) of employees at their company have jobs that require regular business travel. Nine in ten (88%) GBTA buyer and procurement members feel their employees are “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business in the current environment. Very few (3%) are either unsure or don’t feel their employees are currently willing to travel for business (1%).
• AND WHAT IF THEY WON’T. Fewer than half (46%) of respondents say their employees are somewhat or very concerned about COVID-19 when it comes to returning to business travel, and 38% when it comes to returning to the office. So how are companies addressing employees who do not want to travel for business due to COVID-19 risks? The majority are letting their employees make the call.
Of the 65% who report their company has an opt-out process for those concerned about COVID-19 risks for business travel, 63% of respondents say their employees can opt-out of any trip they are uncomfortable taking, while 31% say opt-out requests are addressed on a case-by-case basis. An additional 4% report employees can opt-out of business travel based on certain pre-defined circumstances or specific health conditions.
GBTA conducted this poll among its members and other business travel industry professionals including travel buyers and travel suppliers across the globe from June 6-17, 2022. A total of 547 responses were received.
 The June GBTA survey was launched before the U.S. eliminated the COVID testing requirement for inbound international travelers.