While many people took at least one vacation trip after the pandemic, business travel did not recover as quickly. Here are some of the latest predictions for when people will start traveling for business.
30 July 2021, Bavaria, München: Passengers stand at a Lufthansa check-in counter at Munich Airport. … [+]
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Travel stages before the pandemic
A report by the US Travel Association estimates that households and businesses spent a total of $ 1.1 trillion on travel in 2019. Of the $ 1.1 trillion spend, business travel accounted for about $ 334.2 billion – that number has shrunk by about 70% in 2020% over the past year, the association said.
While travel companies were optimistic in early 2021 that business traffic would recover after vacation travel recovered so quickly, the Delta option, travel restrictions and other factors are delaying the recovery date.
Business trips in 2021 (so far)
While experts assume that vacation travel will return to pre-pandemic standards as early as 2022, business travel will take a few more years. In July 2021, there was still general optimism among airlines that after the end of the main leisure travel season on Labor Day, business trips would return to business in autumn. Domestic airlines, for example, predicted a good year after suffering heavy, unexpected losses (and government bailouts) in 2020.
Unfortunately, the Delta variant appeared in late summer, and airlines and travelers are now recalling their travel plans.
The US Travel Association has not yet published any estimates for the 2021 calendar year, but it currently assumes that business volumes will not return to normal until 2024 or later.
Airlines are seeing business travel volumes around 40% of their 2019 levels. Prior to the Delta option, airlines estimated business travel in the fall to be 60% of pre-pandemic levels. For example, in Washington, DC, hotels are heavily reliant on business expenses. But business travel bookings are down 86% since 2019, and also lower than in 2020.
Hawaiian hotels and resorts could lose up to $ 1 billion in business travel revenue in 2021. This tropical state is a popular destination for vacation travel during the summer months and vacations. But it’s also a year-round favorite for business and leisure travel.
As the travel industry tries to weather the storm, federal lawmakers are trying to pass the Save Hotel Jobs Act to provide tax credits and wage subsidies to help hotel workers with fewer hours and lower wages.
Business travel challenges
Here are some of the challenges airlines, hotels, and other business travel companies face.
The Delta variant has induced many companies whose employees returned to the office in early 2021 to work from home indefinitely. Other variants also delay the return plans and thus the resumption of business trips.
The increase in variants is also causing airlines to delay the repatriation of some of the aircraft currently in storage and the reintroduction of routes and flights. Airlines do not want to overload their business travel with false expectations until there is consistent demand.
Travel restrictions imposed by countries and states discourage business and leisure travel. While business can be an “essential” reason for travel, there is still a process that workers must go through before booking a trip. Going through the approval process and possible quarantines may not be worth the effort when a videoconference can clear up most of the details.
While the health situation is not changing as quickly as it was in early 2020, restrictions can change quickly, forcing companies to postpone face-to-face meetings and switch to virtual ones instead.
One of the most recent examples is the European Union’s travel restrictions on non-essential travel in late August 2021. The EU is currently advising against non-essential travel from higher risk countries, including the United States.
While countries and popular business travel destinations want business travel to return and increase revenue, the reopening process is slower than originally expected.
Fewer business conferences
Several business conferences are back this year after being only virtual in the United States in 2020. There will also be some international business meetings in the second half of 2021 when the world will open again for summer travel.
However, capacity constraints for large gatherings and the general reluctance to mingle with many others in a confined space discourage business and trade conventions.
Instead of just being personal, many conventions offer a hybrid platform so that attendees can go to the convention site. However, non-travelers can network with others online. Other trade conventions remain virtual as the health threat may not be worth the potential fruits of face-to-face meetings.
We could see more conventions in 2022 if the health situation does not deteriorate and popular conference venues accommodate the largest possible gatherings. For example, the iconic Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2022) will be personal after going virtual in 2021. 2021 could be a year of transition and the trend towards local gatherings will increase in 2022.
Businesses may require their employees to be fully vaccinated for business reasons. JP Morgan is one of the first high profile companies to ban business travel for its unvaccinated employees.
A full vaccination of the participants is also required at events. For example, at CES 2022, one of the largest trade shows in the United States, all attendees must be fully vaccinated.
While vaccination rates are increasing worldwide and in the US, not every worker can choose to vaccinate. There may also be more people willing to attend as everyone else in the building has also been vaccinated or has recently recovered.
Corporate travel rates remain relatively low
Delta Air Lines reported that much of its business travel revenue in 2021 will come from small and medium-sized businesses, rather than corporations.
Big companies have bigger travel budgets and more people who can fly. Until the big corporations increase their travel budgets for meetings, training and conferences, airlines will continue to look for ways to bring back traditionally higher profit margin business travel.
Reduced budgets for business travel
Businesses of all sizes are reducing their travel budgets after digitizing an unexpectedly high number of interactions with colleagues, vendors, and prospects. Sure, virtual meetings don’t have the same interpersonal benefits as face-to-face meetings. But it is still possible to complete most negotiations via video, audio, or email.
Many companies adapt their business plans to relatively uncertain revenues due to various economic factors such as inflation, supply chain problems, and potentially lower consumer spending. Travel is an overhead that is easy to reduce thanks to today’s video conferencing technology. Rising business confidence can lead to a return from business travel.
It will be at least two years before business travel returns to pre-pandemic levels. Many companies are still trying to leverage virtual meetings as much as possible, whether you’re in the C-suite or a newcomer.
Domestic business travel for important face-to-face meetings will be the first to recover and trade conventions may be the next. However, due to travel restrictions and additional spending, international business travel could likely be the last to recover.