Charting the trends – ‘optimistic and tangible signs of recovery’ in business travel sector are seen over past month as non-essential domestic business travel grows and international travel returns

28 October, 2021

Road warriors are ready and reduced infection rates in many parts of the world and increased vaccinations are already helping to accelerate the volume of business travel at many businesses. It is no way a return to normal, but is an encouraging sign that we are on an upward trajectory out of the depths of the COVID chasm.

The optimistic signs of return and tangible recovery in the business travel sector are evident over the past month and have been confirmed in the latest monthly poll from The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), which shows more than half (52%) of industry respondents are more optimistic compared to Sep-2021.

The Oct-2021 research also shows an increase to 66% of those polled who said their companies are allowing non-essential domestic business travel and, in a high for the year, 42% international travel, while more than half of suppliers (55%) say their bookings from corporate customers increased from last month.

The Oct-2021 poll from GBTA is the 24th in a series tracking the pulse of GBTA's membership of global travel buyers, suppliers, and other stakeholders on how the business travel industry overall is navigating the return to travel, post pandemic.

The latest research highlights supplier and travel management company staff are more optimistic about the industry's path to recovery compared to a month ago. Half (52%) report they feel more optimistic compared to a month ago (22% in the Sep-2021 poll). Only one in ten (10%) say they feel more pessimistic about the industry's path to recovery compared to a month ago (27%).

The Oct-2021 poll saw an increase to 66% in respondents reporting their companies usually or sometimes allow non-essential domestic business travel, up from 61% in Sep-2021. Non-essential international business travel followed a similar trend, up to 42% (from 34% in Sep-2021).

Among those who stated they have travelled less or much less for business than they did pre-pandemic, seven in ten (70%) say they miss traveling for business and are eager to travel for business more in the future. One in five (21%) do not miss traveling for business and wouldn't mind traveling less in the future and 10% are unsure. Interestingly, respondents based in Europe (31%) are more likely to not miss business travel compared to those in North America (19%).

Three in four (78%) GBTA buyer and procurement members feel their company's employees are "willing" or "very willing"' to travel for business in the current environment. After two months of declines, this figure increased 10 percentage points from Sep-2021, and has now surpassed its summer peak (77% in Jun-2021 and Jul-2021). Over four in five (85%) respondents report they currently travel "less" or "much less" than before the pandemic, whereas one in ten (14%) report they travel about the same amount as before. Only 2% report they travel "more" or "much more" than before the pandemic.

GBTA members and stakeholders strongly agree reduced infection rates and increased vaccinations will accelerate the volume of business travel at their company. Top drivers include increased vaccination rates around the world (59%); increased vaccination rates across the region or country (39%); and increased employee vaccination rates (33%). Three in four (77%) say the overall reduction in COVID-19 transmission rates at venues where their company would hold or attend meetings would increase their volume of business travel.

Positively, nine in ten (90%) respondents report they are now fully vaccinated. This includes 89% of travel managers and 92% of travel suppliers. And support for vaccine requirements is strong, comprising 74% for flying internationally; 69% to attend larger conferences, meetings and events; 65% to fly domestically; 65% to travel on a train; 53% to eat at a restaurant; and 51% to stay in a hotel. Only renting or hiring a car split respondents with 44% supporting and not supporting government policies that would require proof of full vaccination.

A lot of the increased optimism can be linked to the opening of the US market to international arrivals and in particularly the return of trans-Atlantic travel, a key business market.

Three in four (74%) indicated support for the opening of US borders (proposed for 08-Nov-2021) with the required protocols, with seven in 10 expecting an increase in international business travel over the next six months as a result. GBTA members and stakeholders strongly agree that reduced infection rates and increased vaccinations will accelerate business travel at their company, with 59% indicating increased vaccination rates around the world would be a top driver.

While Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA acknowledges "there's still a road ahead for recovery," the opening up of borders and a return to non-essential business travel is a key milestone in that journey. "While we have seen ever-increasing domestic and short-haul travel, a more accelerated recovery has been hindered by the lack of international trans-Atlantic travel," she says.

The opening of the much-anticipated Europe and UK to US travel corridors, as well as the opening of land borders to Canada and Mexico, will give "a much-needed boost to the business travel ecosystem and global economy," according to Ms Neufang.

Support is strong for the US policy to open borders with new requirements for international visitors to enter the US, including proof of vaccinations status, and proof of a negative COVID -19 test result within three days of travel departure. Three in four U.S.-based GBTA members and stakeholders strongly support (50%) or support (24%) the policy and one in five (17%) are neutral of the policy.

Additionally, seven in 10 (73%) respondents believe the US policy will greatly or moderately increase international business travel to the U.S. in the next six months. One in four (26%) believe the policy will only slightly increase international business travel to the US.

Respondents based in Europe (73%) are more likely than respondents based in North America (58%) to say they do not require vaccinations to travel for business and/or meet clients or customers face-to-face. Likewise, respondents based in Europe (85%) are more likely than those based in North America (59%) to say they do not require vaccinations to travel to return to the office and work from the office.

GBTA members and stakeholders did raise concern about the impact of delays for issuing passports and visas on the resumption of international business travel. Half (52%) are either very concerned or concerned about passport and visa delays impacting international business travel and an additional one in four (25%) are neutral about the impact. Approximately one in five (17%) are not too concerned.

The research also shows that two-thirds of respondents (67%) still have significant flexibility to work from home. This includes those who say their company's offices largely have not re-opened (31%) or have permanently closed (2%), and those who say their offices have re-opened but employees can choose to work from the office or from home (34%).

One-third (31%) of respondents note their company's offices have not largely reopened, and the majority of employees continue to work from home/remotely. Respondents based in North America (34%) are more likely than those based in Europe (15%) to say their company's offices have not largely reopened, and the majority of employees continue to work from home/remotely.

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 some of the key findings from the latest The State of Business Travel research from GBTA.

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.

HEADLINE FIGURES FOR WEEK COMMENCING 25-Oct-2021:

Departure frequencies down -1.07% versus last week; up+36.75% versus 2020 and down -25.94% versus 2019.

Seat capacity down -0.84% versus last week; up +41.01% versus 2020 and down -26.77% 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