Confidence about travel plans is growing, but rise of COVID-19 variants is pushing back travel restart dates in some regions

23 August, 2021

American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) has reported confidence among its clients about travel plans is growing, but the rise of COVID-19 variants is pushing back travel restart dates in some regions. The findings of its Jun-2021 Travel Client Check-In Survey showed very positively that almost all intend to return to travel before the end of the year, but that is more likely now to take place in 4Q 2021.

The research found 98% of GBT clients expect travel to return before the end of 2021, although the new COVID-19 variants and an increase in cases in some regions have pushed back some restarts from 3Q2021 to 4Q2021. This represented a more than a third (+36%) rise on the level of clients planning for the return to travel versus the May-2021 research. The positive attitude is shared with an almost 50% increase in the number of clients ready to travel in the next 30 days, up + 47% compared with May-2021.

In North America, 26% of clients report they are ready to get back on the road within a month, thanks to high vaccination rates and relaxing restrictions, followed by Latin America (16%), the Asia Pacific (14%), and the Europe, the Middle East and Africa (10%). More than half clients (53%) cite 'business critical' activities as the most common reason for travel, with client-related activity coming second (35%). The research also indicated a "slight increase" in 'internal travel', to 18%, further indicating increased confidence in returning travel.

The findings from the Jun-2021 Travel Client Check-In Survey were revealed as part of GBT's regular monthly report on the latest business travel trends and insights based on client research, traveller surveys, and data analysis by its global business consulting experts. This research goes some way to helping the industry understand travel sentiment, new developments, and how organisations are managing their return to travel.

According to GBT returning travel patterns show that where people are permitted to travel, they will travel. Domestic travel continues to represent most travel activity (more than 80%) and this is "not expected to change" much during the summer period, normally a slow period for business travel, but if restrictions on travel reduce and vaccinations continue to roll out, GBT anticipates intra-regional and international travel "could take off" from Sep-2021.

COVID vaccination programmes continue around the world: in GBT's top countries, it says between 30% to 50% of people are now vaccinated, although Australia "lags the rates" seen in North America and Europe. Since mid-July, governments around the world have closely monitored the increasing numbers of confirmed cases of the Delta coronavirus variant, but data shows recovery.

Notably, cities GBT, the 7-day rolling average of passengers passing through US airports is averaging at 80% of 2019 levels, which indicates that the majority of people have confidence in flying again, while China is ahead of the curve on return to travel, expecting a 3-5% increase in hotel bookings.

The findings of the GBT Client Check-In for Jun-2021 suggests that companies are accelerating their preparations to return to travel, easing restrictions on bookings and approvals. The GBT Trip Feedback for Jun-2021 indicates that as travel restarts, travellers show high levels of trust that suppliers will look after their safety and wellbeing. According to client scores out of a possible 5.0 points, air suppliers, hotel suppliers both scored 4.4, while ground transportation suppliers scored 4.3.