person on laptop during airline flight for business travel

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) has issued the findings from its 18th COVID-19 poll assessing the impact of the pandemic and the road to recovery for the business travel industry.
Nearly a quarter of poll respondents report that their company has resumed nonessential business travel, or that the company has in place a plan to resume travel. This latest poll shows multiple positive signs for business travel recovery, including an increase in willingness to travel, a decrease in trips cancelled and a more optimistic view towards returning to the road as travel bookings continue to increase.

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Positive Momentum For Business Travel 

  • About 9 percent of poll respondents say their company already has resumed nonessential business travel, while an additional 13 percent report their company now has in place a fully developed travel-resumption plan. Additionally, 31 percent of respondents say their company is actively working on a travel-resumption plan, while 20 percent say their company has begun the process, but has more work to do. Only 18 percent report no formal planning underway, while 7 percent reported being unsure.
  • Two-thirds (65 percent) of poll respondents feel their employees are “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business in the current environment, an increase of 11 percentage points from the March 2021 GBTA poll results. The remaining corporate travel buyer and/or procurement respondents feel their employees are not willing (12 percent) or neutral (12 percent) in terms of their willingness to travel for business. In addition, 11 percent are unsure.
  • Positive signs in the United States were further underscored by responses to the April 2, 2021, travel guidance update by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommended “that fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves.” More than six in 10 U.S. respondents said the new CDC guidance makes them much more (29 percent) or somewhat more (32 percent) comfortable traveling for business. Another third (32 percent) report the CDC announcement has not changed their opinion. Only 4 percent feel less comfortable traveling for business.
  • Half of U.S.-based corporate travel buyer and procurement respondents feel recent CDC guidelines will have a “major” or “some” influence on their company’s timeline for resuming nonessential domestic business travel. Another one-third say the new guidelines will have a minor (18 percent) or no influence (15 percent) on their company’s timeline, while 14 percent say they are unsure.
  • Globally, suppliers and travel management company respondents see optimism about the industry’s path to recovery. Half say they felt more optimistic than they did last month with four in 10 (43 percent) saying they feel the same as they did last month. Less than one in 10 (8 percent) say they feel more pessimistic about the industry’s path to recovery than they did last month.
  • Half of supplier respondents say their bookings from corporate customers have increased in the past week, while two in five (38 percent) report their bookings have remained the same from the previous week. One in 10 report their bookings have decreased (11 percent).
  • Three quarters (75 percent) of respondents who report canceling or suspending most or all trips to a specific region/country are considering resuming travel in the near future (1–3 months) or are considering resuming travel in the near future but do not have definite plans. Among those companies, 16 percent report plans to “resume all travel in the next 1-3 months,” while 59 percent report that they are considering resuming all travel in the near future, but have no definite plans as yet.
  • Seven in 10 (71 percent) poll respondents think issuing government-issued digital health verification (or digital green certificates and/or vaccination passports) is either “very effective” or “effective” in terms of resuming business travel. Just one in 10 thinks it is “ineffective” or “very ineffective” or are unsure (10 percent). Few are indifferent (7 percent) about the policy.

Respondents from Europe are more likely (81 percent) than respondents from North America (68 percent) to say issuing digital health verification (or digital green certificates and/or vaccination passports) is effective in terms of resuming business travel.

More Flexibility in Working Arrangements

  • Eight in ten poll respondents say their employees will have “much more” (35%) or “more” (47%) flexibility to work from home than they did before the pandemic. An additional one in ten (14%) say employees will have equal flexibility and only three percent say employees will have less flexibility.

Respondents based in Europe (88%) are slightly more likely than respondents in North America (81%) to say they expect their company’s employees will have more/much more flexibility to work from home than before the pandemic.

  • Among those who think their company’s employees will have more flexibility to work from home, half believe their company is “very likely” (16%) or “somewhat likely” (35%) to revise travel and expense policies to account for an increase in remote working. One in five report their company is unlikely (18%) or very unlikely (4%) and an additional one in ten do not have an opinion (13%) or are unsure (15%).
  • As domestic business travel resumes, two in five (44 percent) poll respondents expect more business meetings with clients and customers will be held in non-traditional settings such as restaurants, bars, coffee shops, flexible office spaces and/or hotels. One in four (27 percent) do not expect this to become more common and one in three (29 percent) do not know.

Company-Wide Functional Collaboration On Planning for Return To Travel and Offices

  • Four in ten (39%) respondents report buyer and procurement members are involved with key aspects of their company’s planning for return to offices. However, fewer report they are involved with their company’s remote working policies (23%) or their company’s approach to managing a decentralized workforce (18%).
  • More than half (56 percent) of poll respondents say their company’s planning on return to business travel is led by a cross-department committee or working group (which could include travel, human resources, security, legal and other departments). One-quarter (25 percent) of respondents say their company’s planning for return to business travel involves another, singular department such as the C-suite, security or human resources. Only 11 percent say the travel department or other areas (8 percent) are leading the effort.
  • Half (49%) of poll respondents say their job responsibilities have changed due to the pandemic, whereas half (51%) say their responsibilities have not changed.

Poll respondents in Canada (63%) and United States (50%) are more likely than respondents from Europe (36%) to report their job responsibilities have changed.

  • Among those who say their job responsibilities have changed due to the pandemic, most report their responsibilities have increased (72%) and travel policy decisions involve more people and departments (31%). In addition, one in ten say they report to a different person or department (17%), have fewer direct reports (16%), or need to receive approval from more people/departments to enact travel policy changes (15%). Few respondents say they have more direct reports (8%) or have had responsibilities taken away from them (5%).

“It is encouraging to see key indicators all pointing towards a return to business travel, as organizations collaborate internally across multiple functions to ensure a safe return for their travelers and commuters,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO of GBTA. “Many companies have also revisited their work-from-home policies due to the pandemic, and in many cases are making a permanent change that will remain in effect even after the pandemic. It’s clear the way we manage and conduct business will be noticeably different moving forward.”

View the entire poll results here and key highlights here.

GBTA conducted a poll of its members across the globe from April 12-17, 2021. A total of 942 responses were received.

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