Charting the trends – new research indicates that ‘it is safe to return to conducting and attending in-person professional meetings and events’ but business travel’s return will remain a slow process

17 June, 2021

The use of videoconferencing and technology platforms have helped us to maintain business relationships while the world has worked to find a solution to the biggest global health crisis of modern times.

However, now we start to better manage the situation and work to balance the risks of new infections with the transition to a post-pandemic world there will be a return to modern traditional practices. The return to in-person meetings and events will certainly play a vital role in the ability to make a full economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

In America, lingering COVID-19 restrictions and a patchwork approach to reopening across the country will prevent the economically crucial business travel segment from recovering until at least 2024, according to a Tourism Economics analysis released this week by the US Travel Association.

Travel overall "is by far the US industry hardest hit by the ongoing fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic," according to the travel industry advocate, especially the corporate industry with its CEO Roger Dow noting "a thriving travel industry - and the broader US economy - are dependent on the return of business travel and PMEs".

With vaccinations and infection rates in the US trending favourably, restrictions lowered, and traveller confidence rebounding, domestic leisure travel is projected to reach 99% of its pre-pandemic peak in 2022 and to grow steadily thereafter, according to the research.

But in the absence of clear and consistent guidance from federal health authorities on PMEs, business-related travel is not expected to recover its pre-pandemic volume for an additional two years, it says. US Travel Association data shows spending on travel for large, in-person professional meetings and events (PMEs) declined by a massive -76% last year - a USD97 billion loss in spending.

The research indicates that only about a third (35%) of US businesses are currently engaging in any business-related travel. A staggering 65% of all US jobs lost in 2020 were supported by travel, and they cannot fully recover without a swift return of all segments of travel, particularly in-person PMEs, according to the analysis.

One of the major factors in the slow return of PMEs is the uneven patchwork of guidance that currently governs large gatherings from jurisdiction to jurisdiction nationwide. The US Travel Association has urged the adoption of federal guidance that is clear and consistent-and that recognises that health and safety measures can be more readily implemented at PMEs than at other forms of large gatherings.

It cites new research from leading health care scientists at The Ohio State University who have released a white paper that includes evidence-based analysis - focused on a scientific review of proven health and safety measures substantiated over the last year - showing that "it is safe to return to conducting and attending PMEs".

In The Scientific-Based Evidence for Conducting Safe and Healthy Professional Meetings and Events (PMEs), the authors rely on science and guidance from trusted sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network to outline the best practices to ensure a safe return to large-scale, in-person PMEs. The paper also differentiates PMEs from other large gatherings, noting that PMEs offer a controlled environment that allows for scientifically proven safety measures.

"Getting back to our pre-pandemic ways of doing business must include taking evidence-based tactics we learned during the pandemic to keep people safe and healthy," said study co-author Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, APRN-CNP, FAANP, FNAP, FAAN, vice president for health promotion, university chief wellness officer and Dean of the College of Nursing at The Ohio State University. "We must continue to follow the best evolving science as we make plans to hold in-person events again."

Polling indicates that 85% of American workers view in-person events as "irreplaceable," and 81% who attended work-related PMEs before the pandemic miss doing so and are likely to attend such events in the future.

Research shows that Americans are eager to reconnect with colleagues in person, via business meetings, conferences and conventions, and this scientific analysis and recommendations "make clear it is possible and safe to do so," said Mr Dow. To support the return of professional meetings and events, a coalition of travel industry businesses and organisations, under the U.S. Travel Association umbrella, is also launching an initiative called "Let's Meet There" to advance the full and safe reopening of the business travel sector.

They say 'a picture paints a thousand words'. In this regular section CTC - Corporate Travel Community offers an illustrative insight into a key industry observation or trend, this week highlighting a table from the Tourism Economics research for the US Travel Association on the recovery of US travel spending.

This regular section also now incorporates and expands on the charts produced in the 2020 air capacity series 'Coronavirus Statistics Snapshot'. These are based on an analysis of OAG schedule data and include a weekly look at how the pandemic is impacting global flight levels in the world's largest markets; a week-on-week and year-on-year comparison of flight departures by geographical region and a look at how weekly capacity is trending: the latter comparing levels to 2020 and also to the 2019 baseline performance.


Departure frequencies up 3.08% versus last week; up+70.07% versus 2020 and down -36.94% versus 2019.

Seat capacity up+3.66% versus last week; up +77.33% versus 2020 and down -38.67% versus 2019.

CHART: Week-on-week change in flight departures by region

CHART: Year-on-year weekly departures performance for world's top 30 markets versus 2019

CHART: Year-on-year weekly departures performance for world's top 30 markets versus 2020

CHART: Departure capacity trends with year-on-year performance

CHART: Departure capacity trends versus 2019

CHART: The world's biggest aviation markets by departure seats