GBTA poll: Positive signs for return of business travel

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) has released the findings from its latest poll measuring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and how GBTA buyer and procurement members are navigating the return to travel.

The results from the 19th poll in the series are the most positive yet, with increasing optimism, growing momentum for a return to business travel and an increase in bookings—largely due to the success of the vaccine rollout and introduction of vaccine passports.

“It’s reassuring to see so much momentum for a return to business travel, with more optimism, willingness to travel and an increase in bookings,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA. “Government policies remain the greatest obstacle to opening travel, particularly in the U.K., Europe and Canada. Our advocacy teams continue to lobby on behalf of members, in London, Brussels, Ottawa [Canada], Washington and around the world for the responsive and safe reopening of international travel.”

As business travel resumes and demand accelerates, it’s a job seekers market as the industry fights to retain talent and win back talent lost during the pandemic.

Optimism and momentum for a return to travel
About three in four (74%) GBTA buyer and procurement respondents feel their employees are “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business in the current environment. The remaining buyer and/or procurement respondents feel their employees are “not willing” (10%) or “neutral” (11%) in terms of their employee’s willingness to travel for business. In addition, 6% are “unsure.”

More than three in four (78%) GBTA 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 terms of resuming business travel. Only 8% each think it is “ineffective,” “very ineffective” or are “unsure.”

Respondents from Europe (86%), the U.K. (90%) and Canada (89%) are a bit more likely than respondents from the U.S.(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, more than half (55%) cite government policies that restrict travel or make it difficult (e.g. entry restrictions or mandatory quarantines), followed by company policies restricting employees from traveling (23%) and travel budget freeze/cost savings (11%). Few cite employee unwillingness to travel (7%), other reasons (4%) or are unsure (1%).
Respondents based in the U.K. (80%), Europe (70%) and Canada (77%) are much more likely to cite government policies as a key barrier to the resumption of business travel compared to those based in the U.S. (44%).

Optimism among suppliers and travel management company respondents concerning the financial prospects of companies in the business travel sector continues on a positive trajectory, as half report they are “very optimistic” (3%) or “optimistic” (47%) about the industry’s financial prospects.

More than one in four (26%) report they are “pessimistic” or “more pessimistic,” and 23% are “neither pessimistic nor optimistic.” Only 4% report they are “unsure” about the financial prospects of companies in the business travel sector.

Among those who say 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%) are the primary reasons for their hesitancy. Other reasons include lack of interest (16%) and hesitancy to travel to unfamiliar locations (9%).

More than half (54%) of supplier respondents report an increase in bookings from corporate customers within the past week compared to just 40% in the April poll. Only 10% report their bookings have decreased.

More than half (52%) of supplier and travel management company respondents report that they feel more optimistic about the industry’s path to recovery compared to a month; 41% say they feel the same and only 7% say they feel more pessimistic about the industry’s path to recovery compared to a month ago.

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

More than eight in 10 (81%) GBTA member company respondents who reported canceling or suspending most or all trips to a specific region/country are considering resuming travel in the near future or are considering resuming travel but do not have definite plans. Less than one in 10 do not have plans to resume business travel in the near.

Staffing up to meet demand
More than three in four (77%) suppliers and travel management respondents say their staff size is “much less” or “less” today compared to before the pandemic. Less than one in 10 (6%) say their staff size is larger today and 15% say their company is the same size today.

Almost half (47%) of supplier and travel management employee respondents agree their company will likely face difficulties hiring staff due to a shortage of qualified candidates or hesitancy among prospective employees to work in the travel industry (46%). Other anticipated obstacles of note include candidates wanting to work remotely (35%) or vaccination verification (15%).

Thinking ahead to the next six months, the majority of supplier and travel management respondents (62%) expect staffing at their company to increase moderately; 27% expect staffing to remain the same, while only 8% expect staffing to decrease.

Among suppliers and travel management respondents who expect their staff will increase in the next six months, approximately half (48%) are concerned it will be difficult to find qualified candidates as many have left the travel industry. In addition, more than half (54%) feel it will be difficult to hire qualified candidates due to competition with other companies who are also restaffing.

Bleisure or workcations not a priority
Just about 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; 17% say they are either “less likely” or “much less likely” to do so. Almost three in five (56%) say 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.

GBTA conducted a poll of its members across the globe from May 10-15. A total of 529 responses were received.

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