Growth in corporate travel forecast despite increasing costs

Business travel is forecast to increase this year over last with three out five corporate travel buyers expecting an increase in volume, according to a Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) poll.

Four out of five corporate travel buyers reported bookings (83%) and spending (84%) rose in 2023, and 59% forecast an increase in volume this year and two-thirds (66%) an increase in spending.

However, the poll found significant variation between Europe and North America, with 66% of travel buyers in North America forecasting an increase in travel this year compared with 37% in Europe.

There was also a sharp variation between Europe and North America in the extent of concern about climate change and sustainability, with 41% of European respondents citing climate and sustainability as a leading concern compared with 12% in North America.

The poll of more than 700 buyers and suppliers in January found rising travel costs, lagging corporate budgets and economic uncertainty topped the concerns in the sector, along with fears of travel disruption.

Two-thirds (66%) identified the rising cost of travel as the number-one concern, almost half (46%) cited economic uncertainty and 42% company budgets, with one in three (32%) saying disruption was a major concern.

More than half the respondents (57%) felt it was no longer relevant to compare the sector’s performance to pre-pandemic levels. However, one third (32%) felt the comparison remained relevant.

Almost two-thirds of respondents (62%) reported their company operates a hybrid work model, 27% said they had revised their company’s business travel policy or programme as a result and 21% said a revision was planned.

One in four (27%) reported their company’s travel costs had risen to allow for hybrid or remote working.

Half (53%) felt “unappealing” salaries and benefits were barriers to recruitment and retention in the sector, almost half (48%) reported a lack of qualified or experienced candidates, and 40% reported a lack of investment in retaining and developing staff.

Only one in six travel buyers (14%) expected to add staff this year, but almost half the suppliers (46%) did so.

Travel buyers and suppliers differed in the significance they attached to artificial intelligence, with 27% of suppliers but just 13% of buyers seeing its development as a concern.

The poll results result suggested external customer meetings could account for 36% of business trips this year, industry conferences and events 20%, internal meetings 20%, service trips (9%), training (7%) and meetings with suppliers (6%).

GBTA chief executive Suzanne Neufang noted “strong indicators for continued growth in travel in 2024” from the poll, and said: “The business travel industry has moved beyond the pandemic.

“This bodes well for the future even as we navigate new challenges, advocate for sustainable options and evolve business travel programmes.”

The survey of more than 700 GBTA travel buyers, suppliers and industry professionals was conducted on January 9-22.

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