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ITM trending survey reveals shift in business travel buyer priorities and challenges for 2023

The biggest challenge facing buyers when it comes to managing travel in 2023 is influencing sustainable practice, followed by traveller safety, and traveller confidence. 

Business travel managers’ priorities for 2023 have shifted considerably compared with 12 months ago and are indicative of the business travel industry’s ongoing post-Covid supply chain and servicing issues as well as the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, according to the Institute of Travel Management’s annual Trending Survey of buyer members.

‘Online booking tool (OBT) optimisation’ ranks as the number one priority in 2023 (up from fifth place in 2022) and budget control moves to third place (from sixth last year). ‘Managing supply chain point of failure/servicing’ makes its debut in the top 10 list of priorities at number eight. ‘Duty of care/risk’ and ‘sustainable practice’ both remain in the same position at two and four respectively.

The biggest challenge facing buyers when it comes to managing travel in 2023 is influencing sustainable practice, followed by traveller safety, and traveller confidence. Entering the top six challenges for the first time are managing EA/PA relationship (4th), industry resourcing and service delivery (5th) and TMC servicing (6th).
Further exploration of OBT satisfaction levels revealed that 40% of buyers feel that their tool is not ready to support delivery against their top priorities, particularly with duty of care information at point of sale, seamless air and rail policy inclusion, integrated air/rail display, booking changes and disruption handling, and ability to support traveller wellness policy. The majority of buyers (75%) are also dissatisfied with their OBT’s ability to include carbon budgets and carbon emissions at point of sale.

In terms of budgets for 2023, half of respondents expect their spend to increase; 25% said budgets would remain the same, and the remainder will see a decrease. Almost 60% of buyers said that the current economic environment and cost of travel will have the greatest negative impact on travel volumes next year. Other factors causing volumes to fall include the current level of supply chain disruption and service levels (17% of respondents), and sustainability or net zero targets (11% of buyers).

With regards to sustainability, buyers would like to see suppliers comply with the following measures in order of importance: sustainable aviation fuel usage/targets (89%); provision of carbon off-setting solutions (86%); science-based targets (77%); sustainable practice linked to ISO 14001 (76%); carbon emissions dashboard and reporting (60%). However, these supplier criteria are only mandatory for around a quarter of buyers. Furthermore 24% of respondents said that they will introduce carbon budgets in 2023.

Other findings include:

  • 50% of buyers will remain on a transaction fee-based commercial model with their TMC; 34% will use a hybrid model of transaction and management fees; 6% will move to a management fee basis; and 3% will switch to a subscription basis.
  • New expectations that buyers will expect from their TMC include resilient servicing (71%); online changes/cancellations (71%); proactive trip support and disruption management (59%); sustainability advice (54%); travel tech advice (39%); omnichannel booking (37%); tools to support driving volumes back online (31%)
  • Just over half of buyers (52%) do not anticipate any major modal shifts in types of travel; however 44% expect to see a significant shift from air to rail, and 19% expect to see greater use of serviced apartments instead of hotels.
  • Accommodation is the dominant sector for RFPs with 44% of buyers planning to undertake a full RFP of their hotel programme in 2023/24. The trend for all other sectors (including air, ground, TMC provider, technology, payment, risk management) is targeted negotiations or a contract extension.
  • Since the return of business travel, the profile of the travel manager role/department is viewed more favourably within their organisation by 63% of respondents (compared with 58% in 2022)
  • Additional responsibilities now forming part of buyers’ remits include sustainability, meetings and events, duty of care, traveller wellness, non-financial reporting, payments & expense, and mobility

Scott Davies, CEO, ITM commented: “The results of our annual buyer priorities survey provide a valuable barometer of the trends dominating business travel and the challenges travel managers are facing for the coming year. However, this year’s survey is even more telling and reflects the complex nature of the industry’s recovery post Covid as well as the perfect storm caused by global inflation and the cost-of-living crisis.

“Clearly online booking performance is a major issue for buyers as it has surged from fifth on their list of priorities last year to the number one spot for 2023. This echoes ITM’s recent focus on helping raise awareness of our buyer members’ concerns and drive the developments needed to overcome these challenges to meet the needs of our buyer community going forwards.

“It’s not surprising to see that budget control has moved back up the list of priorities to be back in the top three for the first time since 2021, as global inflation and rising costs are starting to impact on travel budgets and volumes next year. Responsible travel choices are still a key trend as corporates increasingly focus on meeting their organisation’s sustainability objectives. There’s been progress in moving the dial to bring supplier sustainability measures into travel programmes, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to embed these initiatives and influence traveller behaviour. That’s another reason why OBT’s need to evolve and play a critical role in helping travellers and bookers make responsible choices,” explained Davies.

The ITM Trending Survey was conducted over two weeks at the end of November 2022, among some 100 corporate travel buyers, managers and heads of travel, with a mix of global, EMEA, UK and Ireland responsibilities, to explore travel programme trends and challenges for the next 12 months.

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