Business travel is bouncing back and there is a strong outlook for 2023

12 October, 2022

Bookings and spending continue to recover and international travel is narrowing the gap on domestic travel. These were two of the key insights from the Oct-2022 edition of the Business Travel Recovery poll from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

The findings highlight the continued progress of the business travel sector in its return to pre-pandemic performance, but also warns that economic concerns are now eclipsing COVID-19, even as higher expectations prevail for 2023.

This survey of almost 600 business travel buyers, suppliers, and other stakeholders around the world marks the 29th poll in the GBTA series, which was launched to understand the path forward as the industry navigates its recovery from the seismic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Business travel volume continues to rebound versus 2019 pre-pandemic levels

The latest research shows that 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, one in four (26%) respondents estimated their international business travel volume has recovered to more than 70% of their company’s pre-pandemic levels.

Economic considerations a concern, but not influencing travel decisions

Economic considerations have eclipsed COVID concerns for the industry, but a majority of companies are not limiting their business travel specifically due to economic concerns, according to GBTA’s research.

When asked to choose among factors that are more likely to limit business travel next year, 80% of travel suppliers said economic conditions while only 4% cited COVID-19.

However, 75% of travel buyers surveyed said their company had no immediate plans to limit business travel because of economic concerns. One-third (30%) said their company is unlikely to limit business travel, while 45% said they are taking a wait-and-see approach but are not seriously considering limiting business travel at this point due to economic concerns. 

International travel is closing gap on domestic recovery

Domestic travel recovery remains leads in terms of recovery, but international travel is closing the gap. 

Currently, 86% of survey respondents said non-essential domestic business travel is sometimes or usually allowed at their company. Additionally, 74% said the same for non-essential international business travel.

A more positive outlook for 2023

By far, business travel respondents expect more recovery and growth for 2023 compared to this year.

Over three in four (78%) travel managers expect the number of business trips taken by employees at their company will be higher or much higher in 2023 versus 2022, according to the poll.  

Among travel suppliers, 85% expected the number of bookings by corporate clients will be higher or much higher in 2023. Additionally, 80% of suppliers expected travel spending by corporate clients will be higher or much higher in 2023 year over year.

Around two in three (65%) 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).

Remote work and blended travel will not significantly impact business travel

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. Its findings suggest the industry does not expect new ways of working to significantly impact business travel. 

The industry is seemingly embracing remote work models (88%), it says, 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. Similarly, an identical level expect it will lead to less business travel.

Remote work means work for anywhere for many

The GBTA research illustrates that for companies that allow hybrid or fully remote work, approaching half (44%) allow employees to work for extended periods outside of the city, state, or province where they are typically based. This also includes just over as fifth (22%) that even allow employees to work for an extended period outside of their home-base country. 

Some companies even reimburse employees for costs or expenses while working remotely – over a quarter (27%) of respondents said their company does reimburse, but most do not (42%) or leave it to the manager’s discretion (25%).

Many travel managers 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, according to the research.

Industry is showing ‘positive indicators and sentiment for 2023’

GBTA conducted this latest poll among its members and other business travel industry professionals including travel buyers and travel suppliers across the globe between 20-Sep-2022 and 26-Sep-2022. 

The trade association’s CEO Suzanne Neufang, says: “We continue to see progress as business travel makes its way back to being a USD1.4 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 US has only permitted unrestricted travel since June.”

“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,” she adds.