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Business travel continues moving forward but uncertainty around variants impacts more accelerated recovery

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Latest GBTA poll shows business travel recovery sentiment remains solid overall but the recent rise of the Delta variant has resulted in new concerns and travel considerations.

ALEXANDRIA, VA – The business travel industry continues to report an overall willingness and optimism about the return to business travel. However, the rise of the Delta variant and other variants has become a cause for uncertainty and increased concern over the past month. This is according to the latest poll from The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) – the world’s largest business travel association and worldwide leader in education, research, networking, and advocacy for the industry.  

This poll is the 22nd in a series tracking the pulse of GBTA’s membership of global travel buyers, suppliers and other stakeholders on how the business travel industry overall is navigating the return to travel, post pandemic. This latest poll also included questions about the Delta variant and other variants and their potential impact on business travel. 

“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,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA. “The industry continues to be resilient, adaptable and committed to moving forward for safe and responsible business travel for employees and companies around the world.” 

Solid indicators on the road to business travel recovery 

  • Travel willingness, domestic travels continues. 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. 
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