GBTA: Positive momentum continues for return of business travel

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) has issued the findings from its 18th COVID-19 poll assessing the impact of the pandemic and the road to recovery for the business travel industry.

Nearly one-quarter of poll respondents report that their company has resumed non-essential business travel, or that the company has in place a plan to resume travel. This latest poll shows multiple positive signs for business travel recovery, including an increase in willingness to travel, a decrease in trips cancelled and a more optimistic view towards returning to the road as travel bookings continue to increase.

“It is encouraging to see key indicators all pointing towards a return to business travel, as organizations collaborate internally across multiple functions to ensure a safe return for their travelers and commuters,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA. “Many companies have also revisited their work-from-home policies due to the pandemic, and in many cases are making a permanent change that will remain in effect even after the pandemic. It’s clear the way we manage and conduct business will be noticeably different moving forward.”

About one in 10 (9%) poll respondents say their company already has resumed non-essential business travel, while an additional 13% report their company now has in place a fully developed travel-resumption plan. Additionally, 31% of respondents say their company is actively working on a travel-resumption plan, while 20% say their company has begun the process but has more work to do. Only 18% report no formal planning underway, while 7% reported being unsure.

Two-thirds (65%) of poll respondents feel their employees are ‘’willing’’ or ‘’very willing’’ to travel for business in the current environment, an increase of 11 percentage points from the March 2021 GBTA poll results. The remaining corporate travel buyer and/or procurement respondents feel their employees are not willing (12%) or neutral (12%) in terms of their willingness to travel for business. In addition, about one in 10 (11%) are unsure.

Positive signs in the U.S. were further underscored by responses to the April 2 travel guidance update by the Centers For Disease Control, which recommended that “fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves.” More than six in 10 U.S. respondents said the new CDC guidance makes them much more (29%) or somewhat more (32%) comfortable traveling for business. Another third (32%) report the CDC announcement has not changed their opinion. Only 4% feel less comfortable traveling for business.

Half of U.S.-based corporate travel buyer and procurement respondents feel recent CDC guidelines will have a major or some influence on their company’s timeline for resuming non-essential domestic business travel. Another one-third say the new guidelines will have a minor (18%) or no influence (15%) on their company’s timeline. About one in 10 (14%) say they are unsure.

Globally, suppliers and travel management company respondents see optimism about the industry’s path to recovery. Half (50%) say they felt more optimistic than they did last month with about four in 10 (43%) saying they feel the same as they did last month. Less than one in 10 (8%) say they feel more pessimistic about the industry’s path to recovery than they did last month. Half of supplier respondents say their bookings from corporate customers have increased in the past week, while 38% report their bookings have remained the same from the previous week. About one in 10 report their bookings have decreased (11%).

Three-quarters of respondents who report canceling or suspending most or all trips to a specific region/country are considering resuming travel in the near future (one-three months) or are considering resuming travel in the near future but do not have definite plans. Among those companies, 16% report plans to “resume all travel in the next one-three months,” while 59% report that they are considering resuming all travel in the near future, but have no definite plans as yet.

About seven in 10 (71%) poll 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. Just one in 10 thinks it is “ineffective” or “very ineffective” or are unsure (10%). Few are indifferent (7%) about the policy. Respondents from Europe are more likely (81%) than respondents from North America (68%) to say issuing digital health verification (or digital green certificates and/or vaccination passports) is effective in terms of resuming business travel.

More flexibility in working arrangements
About eight in 10 poll respondents say their employees will have “much more” (35%) or “more” (47%) flexibility to work from home than they did before the pandemic. An additional about one in 10 (14%) say employees will have equal flexibility and only 3% say employees will have less flexibility. Respondents based in Europe (88%) are slightly more likely than respondents in North America (81%) to say they expect their company’s employees will have more/much more flexibility to work from home than before the pandemic.

Among those who think their company’s employees will have more flexibility to work from home, about half believe their company is “very likely” (16%) or “somewhat likely” (35%) to revise travel and expense policies to account for an increase in remote working. About one in five report their company is unlikely (18%) or very unlikely (4%) and an additional 28% do not have an opinion (13%) or are unsure (15%).

As domestic business travel resumes, about two in five (44%) poll respondents expect more business meetings with clients and customers will be held in non-traditional settings such as restaurants, bars, coffee shops, flexible office spaces and/or hotels. About one in four (27%) do not expect this to become more common and about one in three (29%) do not know.

Company-wide collaboration on planning
About four in 10 (39%) respondents report that buyer and procurement members are involved with key aspects of their company’s planning for return to offices. However, fewer report they are involved with their company’s remote working policies (23%) or their company’s approach to managing a decentralized workforce (18%).

Over half (56%) of poll respondents say their company’s planning on return to business travel is led by a cross-department committee or working group (which could include travel, human resources, security, legal and other departments). One-quarter of respondents say their company’s planning for return to business travel involves another, singular department such as the C-suite, security or human resources. Only about one in 10 (11%) say the travel department or other areas (8%) are leading the effort.

Nearly half (49%) of poll respondents say their job responsibilities have changed due to the pandemic, whereas 51% say their responsibilities have not changed. Poll respondents in Canada (63%) and the U.S. (50%) are more likely than respondents from Europe (36%) to report their job responsibilities have changed.

Among those who say their job responsibilities have changed due to the pandemic, most report their responsibilities have increased (72%) and travel policy decisions involve more people and departments (31%). In addition, more than one in 10 say they report to a different person or department (17%), have fewer direct reports (16%) or need to receive approval from more people/departments to enact travel policy changes (15%). Few respondents say they have more direct reports (8%) or have had responsibilities taken away from them (5%).

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