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Long-term global business travel outlook remains strong but Omicron variant dampens near-term momentum

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Ongoing uncertainty, government restrictions and variant impacts continue to challenge business travel’s recovery especially for international travel.

ALEXANDRIA, VA. – New variant developments, government restrictions, and international policy inconsistencies are currently hindering a more accelerated return for global business travel. However, the industry continues to reflect progress and optimism in its long-view expectations for 2022, according to the latest poll from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the world’s largest business travel association and leader in education, research, networking and advocacy.

“Here at the start of a new year, the business travel industry and business travelers continue to face a dynamically changing landscape due to Omicron. One comment received from a poll respondent readily sums it up: ‘Uncertainty is a huge wet blanket on [business] travel,’” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA. “Despite the wave of Omicron and the ripple of challenges it has created, there are positive signs, and industry professionals continue to be optimistic for the long-term outlook of global business travel.”

This poll is the 25th in GBTA’s COVID-19 Recovery series tracking the pulse of global travel buyers, supplier members and other stakeholders as the industry navigates business travel during pandemic times. Here are some of the January poll highlights:

Optimism for the long haul
Three in four travel managers expect business travel volume at their company will be much (17%) or somewhat (58%) higher in 2022 than it was in 2021. Another one in ten (12%) expect business travel to remain about the same as 2021, but few (5%) expect it to be lower. Among travel suppliers and travel management companies (TMCs), three in four expect their company’s revenue in 2022 from business travel to be much (25%) or somewhat (51%) higher compared to 2021. An additional one in ten (13%) suppliers and TMCs expect company revenue to remain about the same as 2021.

Company travel cancellation decreases
Poll results show a decline in the percentage of companies who continue to suspend or cancel business travel. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of GBTA member companies have not yet opened international travel, compared to 79% in the October 2021 GBTA poll, and 29% have not opened domestic business travel versus 38% in October. Less than four in ten (38% versus 48% in October) of respondents report their company has suspended or canceled all or most business travel regardless of location.

Current business impacts
Six in ten (60%) suppliers/TMCs report their bookings from corporate clients decreased from the month prior. One in five (21%) characterize their bookings from corporate customers as having increased, but another one in five (19%) report their bookings remained the same. A majority of suppliers and TMCs surveyed are concerned about the impact of Omicron on their company’s revenue. Seven in ten report Omicron will likely have a “very negative” (32%) or “moderately negative” (38%) impact on their company’s revenue derived from business travel. An additional one in four feel Omicron will have either a “slightly negative” (20%) or no impact (3%) on business revenue. 

Comparing variants
When asked to compare Omicron and Delta variant concerns, respondents were more positive but still divided. Two in five report they are either less worried (43%) about Omicron compared to Delta or are equally concerned (45%). Only one in ten (13%) say they are more worried about Omicron versus Delta.

Company guidance largely unchanged
Relatively few companies have introduced new travel restrictions due to the Omicron variant. Only one in four (27%) travel managers/procurement officers report their company has introduced new travel restrictions or requirements, whereas two-thirds (67%) report their company has not. More than half (52%) reported their company is unlikely to do so. 

Biggest barriers
When asked to name the single greatest barrier to business travel, 43% of survey respondents cited government policies that restrict travel or make it difficult (such as entry restrictions or mandatory quarantines).

Travel managers based in the UK (66%) and Europe (62%) were more likely than those in North America (33%) to cite government policies as being the single greatest barrier to business travel. Conversely, North American travel managers (27%) were more likely than those in Europe (15%) to say company policies restricting employees from traveling is the biggest barrier. 

Other business travel barriers included company policies restricting employees from traveling (24%), employee unwillingness/reluctance to travel (9%), offices not being fully open (9%), and travel budget freeze/cost savings (6%).

Hurdles continue fot international travel
When asked to name barriers specifically to international business travel, respondents said policy uncertainty (72%), strict requirements on international visitors (69%), policy inconsistencies across different countries (64%), and required documentation and paperwork (45%).

Getting back out there
Despite Omicron, most travel managers feel employees are willing to travel. Two in three (64%) feel their employees are “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business in the current environment. This was down, however, from 78% in the October GBTA poll. A majority of seven in ten (72%) GBTA members and stakeholders report they would definitely or probably would travel for business. However, respondents based in Europe (49%) are more likely than those based in North America (35%) to report their company has canceled all or most business trips.  

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