Business travel bookings and spending rise among high optimism and employee willingness to travel

6 May, 2022

Business travel is surging forward, international travel is returning and despite new challenges, industry recovery is entrenched, were among the most notable findings from the Apr-2022 edition of the Business Travel Recovery Poll from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). The 27th edition of the insight also found that corporate travel policies are undergoing a revamp and employees are now broadly willing to travel for business.  

GBTA has been surveying business travel buyers, suppliers, and other stakeholders around the world since the pandemic began to take the pulse of the industry as it navigates challenges and changes on the road to recovery. This latest edition is based on a 520-person poll in Apr-2022 among its members and other business travel industry professionals including travel buyers and travel suppliers across the globe.

Double-digit increases in domestic and international sentiment

The latest insights show companies who now report they at least sometimes allow non-essential domestic business travel has increased to 86%, up from 73% in GBTA’s Feb-2022 poll. International travel made a jump double the size with 74% reporting their company now allows it, up 26 percentage points from Feb-2022.

Companies also continue to resume international business travel, according to the poll, with only 45% saying they have cancelled or suspended most or all international business trips, 27 percentage points less than the 71% in Feb-2022. In addition, only one in five respondents (20%) report they have cancelled or suspended most or all domestic business travel, compared to 33% in Feb-2022.

Of the companies who previously cancelled or suspended most or all trips to a specific region/country, 75% plan to resume domestic travel and 52% international travel in the next one to three months, according to the findings.

Suppliers and TMCs report higher corporate travel demand

A majority (88%) of suppliers and travel management companies (TMCs) also report their bookings have increased in the prior month. This is much higher than the share who said the same in Feb-2022 (45%). On average, travel buyers said their company’s travel bookings are currently at 56% of the pre-pandemic level, up 22 points from Feb-2022.

When asked to characterise their company’s spending on business travel compared to 2019, on average, respondents expected their company will be back to 59% of their pre-pandemic spend by the end of 2022 and will reach 79% by the end of 2023.

Return to the office correlates to return to business travel

Four in ten (41%) GBTA stakeholders said their company’s return to the office directly correlates to the return to business travel. Over half (55%) of respondents said their company has implemented a permanent back-to-office policy. One-quarter (23%) reported their employees will be full-time in-office, and over half (52%) will be hybrid with working days spent between office and home.

Two-plus years into the pandemic, 26% reported their company has not yet announced a permanent policy. An additional one in ten (12%) said employees will have the choice whether to return to the office or not. 

Employees are more willing to travel…

Nine in ten (94%) GBTA buyers and procurement professionals felt their employees are “willing” or “very willing’ to travel for business in the current environment, up from 82% in the Feb-2022 poll. No respondent in any region of the world felt their employees were not willing to travel for business in the current environment. 

… and policies are adapting to new environment

The pandemic forced many companies to rethink their business travel programme. A majority (80%) of travel managers in the poll reported the pandemic had driven changes to their company’s travel policies in some capacity, including: fewer business trips overall (39%); employees take fewer business trips, but with more goals assigned to each trip (37%); more trip approval requirements (24%); and a re-evaluation of how employees travel for business such as safety considerations, types of transport, sustainable hotel stays, etc (23%).

Travellers still rebuilding confidence in travel

As employees return to business travel, many have faced hurdles as they get back in the air and on the road. GBTA stakeholders most often reported they and/or their colleagues have experienced confusion on travel restrictions/travel documentation (63%), are more anxious or stressed about business travel (45%) or have had challenges when navigating airports and security rules (36%).

Global sentiment around mask mandates on commercial aircraft still greatly varies. Two in five GBTA stakeholders (41%) said governments should require passengers to wear masks, while a third (32%) felt each airline should be allowed to decide if passengers are required to wear masks. One in five (20%) felt governments should prohibit mask mandates (i.e., allow passengers to fly on any airline without masks).  

Factoring for sustainable travel and inflation in revised travel programmes

Corporate travel managers are recognising sustainability will impact their travel programme. The most frequently cited expectations from poll respondents included fewer trips per employee overall (54%); longer, multi-purpose business trips (43%); and more rail and multi-modal options (34%). However, most travel buyers (61%) do not expect their company will restrict the frequency of flying in business class.

European buyers (71%) are significantly more likely than their North America counterparts (47%) to say their plans will likely include fewer trips per employee, and they are more likely (59%) than North American buyers (36%) to say sustainability considerations will include longer trips.

Many companies are actually increasing their business travel spend in the wake of inflation. Two in five (41%) reported they have increased employee travel spending for air travel, 34% for hotel stays, 33% for car rentals and 26% for ride share and taxis. 

Challenges remain, but high levels of optimism and employee willingness to travel

The industry now faces challenges beyond Covid-19 including rising fuel prices, inflation and supply chain disruption, but Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA says there has been significant gains in the return of business travel, especially over the past month or two.

“GBTA’s global data shows more companies are allowing domestic and now also international employee travel. Booking levels and travel spending continue to return, and there’s high levels of optimism and employee willingness to travel for business,” she says.