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Business Travel Outlook Still Optimistic, But Cautious

Sentiment remains solid around recovery overall but rise of the delta variant holds back a more robust rebound

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the recent rise in the COVID-19 delta variant, business travel still appears to be on track for a comeback in the months ahead, according to the latest poll from The Global Business Travel Association. The survey is the 22nd conducted by the association to track the progress of business travel’s return.

In the August survey of global travel buyers, suppliers and other stakeholders, seven in ten (72 percent) travel buyers felt their employees are ‘willing’ or ‘very willing’ to travel for business in the current environment (fairly consistent with 77 percent in July).

Companies are more open to non-essential domestic business travel; in the past 30 days, 60 percent reported it is “sometimes” or “usually” allowed. The results track with a previous GBTA polltaken earlier in the year, where nearly half (48 percent) of the corporate travel professionals surveyed predicted non-critical business travel either already has or is likely to return by the end of third quarter of 2021.

Over half of survey respondents say they expect business travel will see a significant (8 percent) or moderate (47 percent) increase from September to November 2021. Three-quarters (75 percent) of respondents from Europe expect business travel to see a significant or moderate increase during this time, while in North America just half (51 percent) expect a similar uptick.

Over half (56 percent) of travel buyers and procurement professionals reported their company’s spending increased “somewhat” to “a lot” month over month. Almost half (46 percent) said bookings in had remained the same.

August saw a slight increase in the reopening of international and domestic travel compared to the previous month’s survey. In the July poll, 86 percent said their companies had not opened international travel, a number that dropped to 78 percent in the current survey.

On the domestic front, 41 percent have not re-opened domestic travel in August, versus 50 percent in July. Fewer respondents (51 percent) reported their companies continue to suspend or cancel all business travel regardless of location, down from 60 percent in the July poll.

Go or No Go?

Even with the rising number of COVID-19 cases, only one in five (21 percent) of survey participants say their company has introduced new restrictions on non-essential business travel. However a quarter of those responding (25 percent) report their companies are considering introducing new restrictions. Meanwhile almost half (49 percent) said their company is unlikely to introduce new restrictions.

Of those who say their company is not likely to put further restriction on non-essential business travel because of the delta variant or the growing number of COVID-19 cases in many countries, two-thirds are from Europe (66 percent). Less than half (45 percent) of respondents from North America say their companies probably not going to introduce new restrictions.

Nevertheless, the spread of the delta variant and the resulting increase in case numbers is likely slowing any business travel recovery. According to the survey, eight in ten respondents who work for companies where non-essential business travel has not yet resumed say their company is likely to delay the resumption of non-essential domestic (81 percent) and international (79 percent) business travel due to the delta variant and other variants. 

Business travel for large, medium and small meetings, events or conferences were also most frequently cited as being canceled or suspended due to COVID-19 variants. 

Almost half of respondents said their companies do not typically require vaccination to perform key business functions. Approximately one in five reported their company requires employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in order to travel domestically for business (21 percent), meet customers face-to-face (22 percent), work in the office (20 percent) and attend large meetings, conferences or events (22 percent).

However, about one in four say they are unsure about their company’s vaccine requirements for travel for key business functions.

“Business travel continues to make progress and show small gains on the road to recovery. The delta variant has introduced a bit of a detour, at least for the near term,” said Suzanne Neufang, GBTA’s CEO. “The industry continues to be resilient, adaptable and committed to moving forward for safe and responsible business travel for employees and companies around the world.”