airline at empty airport reflecting impact of covid on business travel despite optimism

Two recent surveys form GBTA and AHLA highlight that whilst the business travel industry continues to report optimism about business travel returning, the rise of the Delta variant and other variants is an increased cause for concern and uncertainty

The AHLA survey shows that U.S. business travelers are scaling back travel plans amid rising COVID-19 cases, with 67% planning to take fewer trips, 52% likely to cancel existing travel plans without rescheduling, and 60% planning to postpone existing travel plans.

With GBTA CEO, Suzanne Neufang saying “Business travel continues to make progress and show small gains on the road to recovery. The Delta variant has introduced a bit of a detour, at least for the near term. With the support of adequate risk mitigation, travelers continue getting back to business during a pandemic that is not going away as quickly as hoped”.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and stay up to date

Here are the key highlights from the two surveys:


Solid indicators on the road to business travel recovery

  • TRAVEL WILLINGNESS, DOMESTIC TRAVELS CONTINUE. In the August poll, seven in ten (72%) GBTA travel buyers felt their employees are ‘willing’ or ‘very willing’ to travel for business in the current environment (fairly consistent with 77% in July). And non-essential domestic business travel continues to be more frequently allowed. In terms of travel in the past 30 days, 60% reported it is “sometimes” or “usually” allowed.
  • MORE TRAVEL AHEAD. Over half of GBTA members and stakeholders report they expect business travel will see a significant (8%) or moderate (47%) increase in the September to November 2021 time frame. Respondents from Europe (75%) are more likely than those in North America (51%) to expect that business travel will see a significant or moderate increase in this timeframe.
  • SPENDING TICKS UP, BOOKINGS STEADY. When travel buyers and procurement professionals were asked how company travel spend had changed compared to the prior month, over half (56%) reported their company’s spending increased “somewhat” to “a lot.” When travel suppliers and travel management companies were asked about their bookings in the previous week, almost half (46%) report their bookings had remained the same.
  • SMALL GAINS. Poll respondents reported a slight increase in re-opening international and domestic travel versus the month prior. In the current poll, 78% had not opened international travel, compared to 86% in July. Forty-one percent have not re-opened domestic travel, versus 50% last month. Fewer respondents (51%) reported they continue to suspend or cancel all business travel regardless of location (down from 60% in the July poll).
  • STAYING THE COURSE. Despite growing concerns about the Delta variant, only 21% of GBTA stakeholders say their company has introduced new restrictions on non-essential business travel at this point. Almost half (49%) said their company is unlikely to introduce new restrictions, while one in four (25%) are considering introducing new restrictions. Respondents from Europe (66%) are more likely than those in North America (45%) to report their company is unlikely to introduce new restrictions on non-essential business travel specifically as a result of the Delta variant (or other variants) and/or the growing number of COVID-19 cases in many countries.

Rise of Delta and other variants detour recovery progress in July

  • OPTIMISM SLOWS. One-third (34%) of supplier and travel management company respondents say they are optimistic about the financial prospects of companies in the business travel sector, but less so compared to a month ago. An additional one in four (38%) says they feel “neither optimistic nor pessimistic,” however, one in four (26%) says they feel pessimistic about the industry’s financial prospects.
  • BUSINESS IMPACT CONCERNS. GBTA stakeholders are “concerned” or “very concerned” about the revenue impact the Delta variant poses to companies when it comes to revenue in the business travel sector (85%), employment/re-hiring (79%) and the safety of business travel (78%). Forty-four percent felt it would have a “very negative” impact, while 37% indicated it would have a “moderate” negative impact. In terms of bookings, one in three (31%) reported a decrease, compared to the prior week, versus 3% in the July poll.
  • ON HOLD LAST MONTH, ON HOLD THIS MONTH. Eight in ten travel buyers/procurement professionals who work for companies that have not yet resumed non-essential business travel report their company is likely to delay the resumption of non-essential domestic (81%) and international (79%) business travel due to the Delta variant (and other variants). Business travel for large, medium and small meetings, events or conferences were also most frequently cited as being canceled or suspended due to COVID-19 variants.

Travel vaccination policies and employee safety protocols

  • VAXXED TO TRAVEL? Almost half of respondents said vaccine requirements to perform key business functions are not typically required. Approximately one in five reported their company requires employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in order to travel domestically for business (21%), meet customers face-to-face (22%), work in the office (20%) and attend large meetings, conferences or events (22%). However, approximately one in four report they are unsure about their company’s vaccine requirements for travel for key business functions.

Respondents from Europe (66%) are more likely than those in North America (52%) to report their company will not require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before they can meet with clients and customers face-to-face. Sixty-two percent in Europe are more likely than those in North America (49%) to report their company will not require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before they can attend large (more than 500 attendees) meetings or events.

  • PRIORITIZING SAFETY. Most respondents (79%) report their company has procedures in place for contact tracing should an employee become infected with COVID-19. Only one in five (21%) report their company does not have procedures in place for contact tracing.


Despite an uptick in leisure travel over the summer, the new survey highlights the dim outlook for business travel and events, which account for more than half of hotel revenue and aren’t expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

The lack of business travel and events has major repercussions for employment both directly on hotel properties, and in the broader community. Hotels are expected to end 2021 down nearly 500,000 jobs compared to 2019. For every 10 people directly employed on a hotel property, hotels support an additional 26 jobs in the community, from restaurants and retail to hotel supply companies—meaning an additional nearly 1.3 million hotel-supported jobs are also at risk.

The survey of 2,200 adults was conducted August 11-12, 2021. Of these, 414 people, or 18% of respondents, are business travelers – that is, those who either work in a job that typically includes work-related travel or who expect to travel for business at least once between now and the end of the year. Key findings among business travelers include the following:

  • 67% are likely to take fewer trips, while 68% are likely to take shorter trips
  • 52% say they are likely to cancel existing travel plans with no plans to reschedule
  • 60% are likely to postpone existing travel plans until a later date
  • 66% are likely to only travel to places they can drive to

The survey also tested attitudes among 1,590 people (72% of respondents) who are likely to attend large gatherings, meetings, and events—all key drivers of hotel revenue. Findings among those respondents include:

  • 71% are likely to attend fewer in-person events or gatherings
  • 67% are likely to have shorter meetings or events
  • 59% are likely to postpone existing meetings or events until a later date
  • 49% say they are likely to cancel existing meetings or events with no plans to reschedule

According to a recent Deloitte survey, corporate travel is projected to remain at only 30% of 2019 levels through the end of 2021. This lack of corporate travel would cost the hotel industry an estimated $59 billion in 2021, according to leading economists, underscoring the need for targeted federal relief such as the Save Hotel Jobs Act.

“Hotels were already on pace to lose more business travel revenue this year than we did in 2020. And now rising COVID-19 cases threaten to further reduce the main source of revenue for our industry,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA. “Hotel employees and small business owners across the nation have been pleading for direct pandemic relief for over a year now. These results show why now is the time for Congress to listen to those calls and pass the Save Hotel Jobs Act.”