US travel buyers have confident outlook on the recovery of business travel

22 March, 2023

A new report from GBTA and Spotnana on the views of US corporate travel buyers reveals positive trends for the rest of the world and the recovery of business travel.  

The report is based on survey responses from 151 US-based corporate travel buyers and addresses key questions, including when travel managers expect business travel to return to pre-pandemic levels, current and new priorities in their roles, and the travel program metrics they are now tracking.

A return to pre-pandemic levels across most categories by the end of 2023

According to the report, ‘How Travel Managers Will Succeed in 2023’, a majority of US corporate travel buyers expect their company’s business travel to ramp up and return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023.

Despite concerns about inflation and rising prices, only one in five travel managers say their companies have begun to limit business travel.

Since the onset of the pandemic, however, demands on travel managers’ time and priorities have grown, including addressing traveller needs, conducting data analysis, and the increasing challenge to balance cost savings with the business traveller experience.

Business travel recovery remains on track

The report shows that travel managers largely expect most types of business travel will reach pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, including domestic business travel (74%), external meetings (77%), conference/group travel (76%) and internal meetings (69%).

One in 10 travel managers, however, say they do not expect business travel volumes to return until 2025 or later, citing inflation and rising prices as the top concerns, followed by travel disruptions and a potential recession. Few feel business travel will never return to pre-pandemic levels, underscoring its importance for companies regardless of travel type.

Companies unlikely to limit future business travel

Most respondents to the survey revealed companies (64%) are unlikely to limit business travel, although many are taking a wait-and-see approach and not seriously considering limiting business travel (36%). Only one in five travel managers say their company (19%) is already implementing a plan to limit business travel.

Travel managers and leadership are prioritising cost savings

Both travel managers (54%) and senior leadership (65%) are prioritising cost savings, but travel managers rank traveller experience higher (51%) than executives (42%), making it more challenging to obtain buy-in to focus beyond costs. The study highlights the increased importance of addressing travel experience metrics, especially as business traveller preferences continue to evolve.

Changing priorities for travel managers

When asked which tasks they dedicate more time to now compared to before the pandemic, the surveyed travel managers most frequently cite traveller communications / answering questions (72%) and overseeing their travel management company (TMC) relationship (59%).

They also spend more time on data analysis (52%) and risk management / traveller tracking (42%). Few report they spend less time on key travel program components, demonstrating the growing complexity of managed travel programs.

Collaboration important for travel managers

Travel managers must collaborate with a number of stakeholders, the most commonly cited in the survey being finance / accounting (69%), senior leadership/C-suite (49%), and risk management/ security (44%).

Only three in five (59%), however, regularly share travel-related performance metrics with senior leadership, revealing an opportunity for more regular reporting to demonstrate the value of a managed travel program and travel managers.

Three in five travel managers (62%) say cost-focused metrics are the most important measures they will use to evaluate their program’s success in 2023. However, a notable number (32%) say travel experience-focused metrics will be the single most important measure they will use to gauge success.

The door is open for industry partnerships

Asked about their top TMC pain points, travel managers most commonly said agents / assistance (48%), data analysis / reporting / dashboarding (37%), and the ability of their TMC to deliver a “customised” travel program (33%).

Concerning their primary OBT, travel managers identify end-user/traveller experience (49%), the ability to manage changes or cancellations (47%), and innovation (41%) as key pain points.