Business travel sentiment hits new heights – three in four buyers feel their employees are ‘willing’ or ‘very willing’ to travel for business in the current environment

The latest regular survey of buyer and procurement members of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) has shown an increased optimism and growing momentum for a return to business travel, all supported by an increase in bookings.

The successful vaccine roll-out and introduction of vaccine passports are the clear drivers of what are the most positive results to date and a reassuring fillip for the embattled corporate travel sector, but GBTA CEO Suzanne Neufang warns that government policies still remain “the greatest obstacle to opening travel” across many countries and international travel routes.

The results from GBTA’s 19th poll – completed in mid May-2021 – reveal that three in four (74%) of its buyer and procurement respondents feel their employees are ‘willing’ or ‘very willing’ to travel for business in the current environment, continuing the month-on-month positive trend for a return to travel. Just one in ten (10%) felt employees were ‘not willing’ to travel, with a similar number (11%) ‘neutral’ and the remaining 6% ‘unsure’.

Among those who said their employees are ‘unwilling’ to travel for business in the current environment (or are ‘unsure’ or ‘neutral’), safety concerns (79%) and the lack of vaccinations (74%) were the primary reasons for their hesitancy. Other reasons included lack of interest (16%) and hesitancy to travel to unfamiliar locations (9%).

Meanwhile, three out of four (78%) member and stakeholder respondents think issuing government-issued digital health verification (or digital green certificates and/or vaccination passports) is either ‘very effective’ or ‘effective’ in aiding the restart of business travel. Only one in ten think it is ‘ineffective’ (8%), ‘very ineffective’(8%) or are ‘unsure’ (8%).

The poll shows some geographical variation with respondents from Europe (86%), the UK (90%) and Canada (89%) a little more likely than respondents from the United States of America (73%) to say issuing digital health verification or vaccination passports is effective in terms of resuming business travel.

When asked to describe the single greatest barrier to business travel in the current environment, over half (55%) cited government policies that restrict travel or make it difficult (e.g. entry restrictions or mandatory quarantines), followed by company policies restricting employees from travelling (23%) and travel budget freeze/cost savings (11%). GBTA notes that few respondents cited employee unwillingness to travel (7%), other reasons (4%) or are unsure (1%).

Respondents based in the UK (80%), Europe (70%) and Canada (77%) were found to be much more likely to cite government policies as a key barrier to the resumption of business travel compared to those based in the United States (44%).

Almost half (46%) of GBTA members and stakeholder respondents expect their company will resume non-essential travel for all employees equally, regardless of their vaccination status. However, one in four (38%) are unsure as to what their company’s policy will allow concerning vaccination status and the resumption of non-essential business Only one in six (16%) said their company will allow fully vaccinated employees to resume non-essential trips while continuing to limit travel for those who have not been vaccinated.

Optimism among suppliers and travel management company respondents concerning the financial prospects of companies in the business travel sector also continues on a positive trajectory, according to GBTA, with half reporting they are ‘very optimistic’ (3%) or ‘optimistic’ (47%) about the industry’s financial prospects.

One in four (26%) though reported they are ‘pessimistic’ or ‘more pessimistic,’ and a similar number (23%) offer a neutral standing and are ‘neither pessimistic nor optimistic.’ Only 4% reported they are ‘unsure’ about the financial prospects of companies in the business travel sector.

A particularly positive sign in the May-2021 poll is that sentiment is translating into bookings. Over half (54%) of supplier respondents reported an increase in bookings from corporate customers within the past week compared to just 40% in the Apr-2021 poll. Two in five (36%) reported their bookings have increased from the previous month, while only one in ten (10%) reported their bookings have decreased.

Similarly, over half (52%) of supplier and travel management company respondents reported that they feel more optimistic about the industry’s path to recovery compared to a month earlier. Two in five (41%) said they feel the same and only 7% said they feel more pessimistic about the industry’s path to recovery compared to a month ago.

Further encouragement in the sector is visible in that eight in ten (81%) GBTA member company respondents who reported cancelling or suspending most or all trips to a specific region/country are now considering resuming travel in the near future or are considering resuming travel but do not have definite plans. Less than one in ten do not have plans to resume business travel in the near term.

Interestingly, suggestions that the pandemic will increase the trend for ‘bleisure’ or ‘workcations’ are potentially unfounded, at least not seen as a priority right now. Only one in five (19%) GBTA member and stakeholder respondents are ‘much more likely’ or ‘more likely’ to combine leisure travel in combination with business travel.

Equally though, about one in six (17%) said they are either ‘less likely’ or ‘much less likely’ to do so with the vast majority – almost three in five (56%) – saying that that the pandemic has not changed their plans to extend business trips to incorporate some leisure time. Only 8% are ‘unsure’ whether they will combine business travel with leisure travel.

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