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ITM survey reveals corporate priorities as business travel teturns

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The majority of respondents (71 per cent) said that client facing meetings would not be replaced permanently by virtual alternatives. 

Business travel for the purpose of meeting clients will start to scale up in the second half of this year, providing Covid vaccination programmes are successful, according to the Institute of Travel Management’s latest survey of its buyer members.

Over a two-week period at the beginning of April 2021, 123 corporate travel buyers from the ITM’s buyer membership completed a survey to establish travel programming priorities for 2021 and beyond. The results were presented at the ITM Revive Conference on 27th April 2021.

The majority of respondents (71 per cent) said that client facing meetings would not be replaced permanently by virtual alternatives. Only a quarter of buyers said that non-client meetings would never be held virtually in future. However, 65 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that the return of travel to pre-pandemic levels is not desirable. This was echoed by respondents’ expectations of when their company’s business travel will reach at least 25 per cent of pre-pandemic levels: around a quarter of buyers anticipate travel will scale up in Q3, whilst 41 per cent foresee this volume returning in Q4.  The greatest enablers to a return to business travel in order of priority will be vaccination programmes, Covid testing and traveller confidence.

Sustainability has also seen a sharp increase in focus since the start of the pandemic, with 76 per cent of respondents saying it will increase in importance in 2021 and beyond, compared with 37 per cent 12 months ago. This contrasts starkly with the fact that 75 per cent of buyers do not know what percentage of their organisation’s emissions is linked to business travel. Nevertheless, progress is being made as 62 per cent of buyers are already including sustainability consideration in all RFPs; 40 per cent have implemented travel programme emissions targets; and 26 per cent have introduced carbon offsetting.

The survey’s findings also reveal how travel buyer roles and responsibilities have pivoted and evolved over the past year in the wake of COVID-19. Additional areas that now fall within buyers’ remits include new reporting requirements (such as CO2), traveller health and lifestyle expectations, and sustainability measures. Fewer buyers (36 per cent) feel increased pressure to justify the travel function within their organisation compared with a year ago (47 per cent). In fact 62 per cent felt that the perceived internal value of their role and remit will increase in 2021, compared to 47 per cent last year.

Other findings include:

  • 60 per cent of buyers say that the importance of diversity and inclusion will increase in 2021, compared with 35% last year
  • Only 13 per cent  currently measure traveller wellbeing within their travel programme
  • The majority of buyers are not planning to go to RFP in 2021 – 73 per cent are remaining with their TMC, and 77% are retaining with their current payment solutions. In terms of air travel, 53 per cent are not planning to RFP while 35 per cent are looking to renegotiate with their existing suppliers.

Scott Davies, CEO, ITM commented: “It’s encouraging to see so many of our buyer members say that in-person client meetings will never be replaced by virtual meetings, but it’s clear that business travel is unlikely to return to anywhere near pre-Covid levels for some time, if at all. Sustainability continues to move up the agenda in terms of priorities, but there is still a lot of work to be done – especially as three quarters of buyers are unaware of how business travel contributes to their company’s overall CO2 emissions. The results of this latest survey also demonstrate the impressive skillset of travel managers, how they deliver value within their organisations and their incredible ability to adapt their role to take on new priorities and responsibilities as business travel returns.”

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