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Business travel in some areas is still far below pre-pandemic levels

A return to normality, but delayed

Business travel in some areas is still far below pre-pandemic levels

March 08, 2023

For business travel, the return to pre-pandemic normality has been moved back two years to 2026. Inflation, China’s economic problems and the effects on global supply chains were among the reasons listed by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) on Wednesday at ITB Berlin 2023. Basic parameters concerning business travel had also changed, said Suzanne Neufang, CEO of the GBTA.

Following the slump in 2020 the curve had peaked sharply around 2021/22, but had since dropped off again, due in part to China opening up quickly again and resurgent infections there. Currently the curve was pointing downwards – probably until 2026.

During the pandemic business travel decision-makers had learned that virtual meetings offered advantages in some respects, even if on the other hand there was fundamentally no substitute for meeting in person, Neufang said. Moreover, sustainability was increasingly becoming an issue, and fewer business trips meant a smaller carbon footprint. All the while, business trips had not gone entirely out of fashion for internal meetings.

Financial companies and insurances easily topped the list of those sectors taking business trips again at more or less pre-pandemic levels, Neufang said. At the other end of the scale were NGOs and foundations.

45 per cent of travel managers had increased their budgets, that much could be said. Faced with the general skills shortage travellers’ expectations had grown. Many of them expected to undertake blended travel, for example in order to extend a business trip by a few days off at their destination. A survey among travel managers found that employers were divided here: 41 per cent were in favour, trending upwards, while 42 per cent were against.

Summarising, she listed five business travel trends: China remained difficult to forecast, business travellers as such had higher expectations, demand for eco-friendly travel was on the rise, technological change slowed things down, and personal trips would play a big role again.