The global business travel industry continues its progress towards full recovery to 2019 pre-pandemic spending levels of USD $1.4 trillion, but recovery has hit some headwinds. Just as many Covid-related recovery conditions have improved, many macroeconomic conditions deteriorated rapidly in early 2022. These new developments are impacting the timing, trajectory and pace of business travel’s recovery, both globally and by region, pushing the forecast for full recovery into 2026 instead of 2024 as previously forecasted.
This is a central finding from the latest 2022 GBTA Business Travel Index Outlook – Annual Global Report and Forecast published by GBTA and made possible by Mastercard. Unveiled at the 2022 GBTA Convention taking place in San Diego, the GBTA BTI is an annual exhaustive study of business travel spending and growth covering 73 countries and 44 industries. Now in its 14th edition, this latest report outlines the top-level outlook for global business travel 2022 to 2026.
“To understand the headwinds that have been impacting a more accelerated recovery for global business travel, all you have to do is look at the news headlines since the beginning of 2022. The factors impacting many industries around the world are also anticipated to impact global business travel recovery into 2025. The forecasted result is we’ll get close, but we won’t reach and exceed 2019’s pre-pandemic levels until 2026,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA.
[The previous BTI released in November 2021 predicted a surge in global business travel spending in 2022, reaching full recovery to the $1.4 trillion pre-pandemic mark by 2024.]
The 2022 BTI also reveals insights from GBTA’s recent surveys of global finance executives and business travelers. Additionally, it explores new and transformative factors in global business travel in the areas of sustainability, workforce dynamics (including remote work and blended travel or “bleisure”), and technology adoption.
Total spending on global business travel reached $697 billion in 2021, 5.5 per cent above the pandemic-era low of 2020. Last year was nearly as challenging as 2020 for the global business travel industry, as it sought to carve out a “normal following” the Covid-19 pandemic. The industry gained back roughly $36 billion of the $770 billion lost in 2020. Recovery was short-circuited by the Omicron variant and spike in global Covid cases in late 2021 and early 2022. As case numbers began to retreat, business travel surged. Global business travel spending in 2022 is expected to advance 34 per cent over 2021 levels to $933 billion, recovering to 65 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
Recovery in 2022 was dependent upon and has been largely driven by improvement in the four factors of global business travel recovery – the global vaccination effort, national travel policies, business traveler sentiment, and travel management policy – where conditions have improved significantly in the last six months.
Business Travel and Finance Executives Highlight the Challenges and Opportunities
- In July 2022, GBTA surveyed over 400 frequent business travelers and nearly four dozen executive travel budget decision makers across four global regions. Overall sentiment is positive, but also confirms Covid concerns are taking a back seat to current macroeconomic and geopolitical issues.
- 85 per cent of business travelers surveyed said they definitely need to travel to accomplish their business goals. Over three-fourths said they expect to travel for work more or much more in 2023 than they did in 2022.
- 84 per cent of senior global corporate finance professionals voiced confidence their travel spending would somewhat or significantly increase in 2023 compared to 2022.
- 73 per cent of business travelers and 38 of 44 senior global financial executives agree inflation/rising prices will impact travel volumes.
- 69 per cent of business travelers and 33 of 44 global financial executives are concerned a possible recession will impact travel.
- 68 per cent of business travelers and 36 of 44 financial executives expect Covid infection rates and variants to have an impact on their travel.