There are positive indications that business travel continues to turn the corner on COVID-19, and especially over the past month, as concern from Omicron begins to wane and global travel restrictions loosen. Also on the rise are business travel volume expectations for the year ahead, as well as employees’ willingness to travel and to blend business travel with leisure time. Responding companies also expect to be heading back to the office, at least a few days a week, and many of them are facing headwinds in hiring and retaining qualified workers.
This is according to data and insights from the February COVID-19 recovery poll, the latest and 26th in a series, from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the world’s premier association serving the business travel industry. For over two years, GBTA has been regularly surveying travel buyers, travel suppliers and other stakeholders around the world to keep a pulse on the business travel industry as it navigates recovery during the pandemic.
“We are entering into the next phase of global business travel – one of thoughtful recovery – and our recent research reflects that shift. The business travel industry is more optimistic about the path to recovery. The signs are there. With safety and health remaining at the forefront, we are moving into a more endemic way of managing the pandemic, step by step. And we’re defining and creating what will be needed for the ‘next normal’ in global business travel – for the industry, businesses, and travelers,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA.
Here are some of the results from GBTA’s February COVID-19 recovery poll:
• OPTIMISM RETURNS IN A BIG WAY.
Three in four (78%) supplier and travel management company (TMC) professionals surveyed currently feel optimistic about the business travel industry’s path to recovery, up from 54% who reported being optimistic in the January poll.
• MORE BUSINESS TRAVEL PERMITTED AND DESIRED.
The percentage of respondents who report non-essential domestic business travel is sometimes or usually allowed increased to 73% in February, compared to 66% in January.
Four in five (82%) poll respondents feel their employees are “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business in the current environment, compared to 64% in the January poll.
And among those surveyed, most (68%) anticipate they will want to travel about the same amount (55%) or more (13%) as they did before the pandemic in the future. An additional third (30%) say they want to travel “somewhat or much less” than they did before the pandemic.
• BOOKINGS IMPROVE. INCREMENTALLY.
On average, travel buyers say their company’s business travel bookings are at 33% of their pre-pandemic level, while travel suppliers report their business travel bookings are back to 42% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
• OMICRON AND MORE TRAVEL AHEAD.
Concerning Omicron, most professionals polled (79%) think the worst is behind us. However, expectations vary for how quickly business travel will resume. Half (50%) expect business travel to return more slowly over the next three months, whereas one in three (29%) expect it will pick up quickly.
• TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS: TOO TIGHT OR ABOUT RIGHT?
When it comes to entry requirements for international visitors, half (46%) feel current restrictions are “just right” and one-third (34%) feel requirements are either “too strict” or “much too strict.” Support for proof of vaccination is strong (76% support or strongly support), but much lower for mandated quarantines (67% opposed or very opposed) and travel bans (62% opposed or very opposed).
The recent increase in the travel restrictions being eased in countries and regions around the world comes as good news for many. Of those polled, 79% report government travel restrictions have greatly (23%) or somewhat (56%) disrupted their business operations. Half (51%) say it would take three months or longer for their company’s business operations to return to normal after travel restrictions are lifted.
• BRING ON “BLENDED” TRAVEL.
Travel managers were asked if they think their employees are interested in extending work trips to include a leisure component (also called “bleisure” travel) compared to before the pandemic. Most (82%) think their employees are equally interested (53%) or “more/much more” interested (29%) in combining business travel with leisure.
• BACK TO OFFICE. SOMETIMES.
Over half of respondents (56%) expect their company will require most employees to report to the office, at least some days. However, 15% expect their company to prefer employees report to the office, but not require it, and might consider offering incentives if they do (e.g., free lunch or other benefits). And 19% have no preference if employees work from the office or from home.
• STATE OF THE TRAVEL WORKFORCE.
A majority of suppliers agree it is difficult to hire qualified employees in the current environment (68%) and retain qualified employees (58%). Two-thirds (67%) agree that additional pay or incentives are required to hire/retain qualified workers. Additionally, suppliers and travel management companies (TMCs) report their staff size is either “somewhat” or “much smaller” (66%) than before the pandemic.
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