GBTA: Business travel’s slow recovery continues amid COVID variant concerns

Despite continuing to report an overall willingness and optimism for the return to business travel, business travel industry sentiment continues to waver, due to ongoing uncertainty around the Delta variant and other variants. However, indicators show companies and their corporate travel managers may be looking at new focus areas and ways of working for their business travel program. This is according to the latest poll from The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

This September poll is the 23rd in a series tracking the pulse of GBTA’s membership of global travel buyers, suppliers and other stakeholders on how the business travel industry overall is navigating the return to travel, post-pandemic.

“It’s not a surprise that for a second consecutive month, travel industry buyers and suppliers continue to report ongoing caution around variants and travel restrictions as key factors impacting what would otherwise be a more accelerated return to business travel,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA. “The recent news regarding the opening up of the U.S. to U.K. and EU business travelers will hopefully alleviate some of the concerns and give a needed boost to the business travel ecosystem through year-end. Additionally, we’re seeing early signs of new ways of thinking coming to corporate travel programs including the importance of closer collaboration with corporate travel managers and travel management companies.”

Here are some highlights from the September GBTA poll:

  • In line with August poll results, respondents in September report non-essential domestic business travel (61%) is more frequently allowed than non-essential international business travel (34%).
    Additionally, the Delta variant/other variants continue to delay the resumption of non-essential domestic and international business travel. Of the GBTA buyer members and contacts whose companies “never” or “rarely” allow non-essential business travel, eight in 10 report their company is likely to delay the resumption of non-essential domestic (81%) and international (80%) business travel due to the Delta variant/other variants.
  • Consistent across the past three months, GBTA buyers feel their employees are “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business in the current environment, as reported by 68% in the September poll.
  • Nearly one in five (22%) travel supplier and travel management company respondents report they feel more optimistic compared to a month ago, versus 15% in the August poll. However, 27% say they feel more pessimistic about the industry’s path to recovery, compared to 39% in the August poll. Almost half (51%) say they feel the same.
  • Most companies report they do not require COVID-19 tests before or after employees travel for business, to attend a meeting or event, or return to the office, regardless of the employee’s vaccination status. In the U.S., 73% reported not requiring testing. In Europe, 67% do not require testing and 39% in Canada, although it’s important to factor in national healthcare policies versus company policies when considering testing requirements in various countries. Of those who note their company requires COVID-19 tests, 60% say their company fully pays or reimburses for the cost.
  • Consistent with August findings, few respondents say their company has introduced new restrictions on non-essential business travel at this point on non-essential business travel due to the Delta/other variants. Just over half (51%) report their company is unlikely to introduce new restrictions, and only 23% report their company has introduced new restrictions.
  • In September, 66% report that, due to the pandemic, their roles as buyers and procurement professionals at companies has changed “slightly” to “a lot.” This includes:
    • collaborating more closely with other departments (71%) such as human resources, finance, legal, risk management or other teams
    • elevating duty of care as a higher priority in the company (70%)
    • developing new approaches or revisions to current corporate travel guidelines (69%)
    • serving on new cross-department committees or task forces (44%)
    • incorporating or prioritizing more sustainability policies in the company’s travel program (40%). When it came to sustainability policies, respondents based in Europe (55%) are more likely than in North America (35%) to say this focus is now more part of their role than before the pandemic.

Among travel buyers and procurement professionals, many report they spend “more” or “much more” time than before the pandemic collaborating with other company stakeholders, particularly security/risk management (66%), human resources (51%) and senior management/C-suite (46%).

  • Even with business travel down from years prior due to COVID-19, more than one-third (37%) of travel buyers and procurement professionals say they are “more” or “much more” reliant now on their travel management company (TMC) than they were before the pandemic.
  • About two in five (41%) GBTA members and stakeholders report their company has re-evaluated the return on investment for business travel in terms of its importance and value. Among those who report their company is currently re-evaluating, top areas include increased emphasis on traveler well-being and safety (56%); increased use of hybrid meetings (combined in-person and virtual) (52%); reduced travel for internal collaboration meetings (49%); and reduction in overall travel costs (48%).