What to Expect out of the Return of Business Travel

Though the return is slow, business travel is making a comeback. Following two years of Zoom calls, restrictions, and limited budgets, people are heading back into the office—and back on the road. In fact, according to the Global Business Travel Association, travelers, suppliers, and other key players have regained their optimism.

The Optimism is There

This according to the February COVID-19 Recovery Poll, a monthly series from the GBTA surveying members about the business travel comeback story. Showing a marked increase from January—a time when Omicron cases were on the rise—the February poll numbers show willingness, optimism, and results:

  • The percentage of respondents who report non-essential domestic business travel is sometimes or usually allowed increased to 73%, up from 66% the month prior.
  • Four in five (82%) poll respondents feel their employees are “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business in the current environment, compared to 64% in January.
  • Three in four (78%) supplier and travel management company (TMC) professionals surveyed currently feel optimistic about the business travel industry’s path to recovery, a big jump from 54% the month before.

Invaluable for Business

And it’s not just a positive outlook for hoteliers—it’s a positive for everyone. A Morning Consult poll on behalf of the American Hotel & Lodging Association underscored the importance of in-person meetings.

Surveying more than 2,200 professionals and business travelers, the study found that in-person meetings and business travel is able to maximize success, foster collaboration, increase productivity, and more. The results were astounding.

  • 80% of employed Americans and 86% of business travelers say face-to-face interactions are important for maximizing company success
  • 61% of adults and 74% of business travelers agree that in-person meetings and business travel build organizational strength in a way virtual interactions cannot
  • 59% of adults and 77% of business travelers agree that in-person meetings and business travel foster collaboration in a way virtual interactions cannot
  • 57% of adults and 76% of business travelers agree that in-person meetings and business travel facilitate productivity in a way virtual interactions cannot
  • 56% of adults and 71% of business travelers agree COVID-19 has created a greater need for face-to-face connection that virtual-only meetings cannot satisfy
  • 46% of adults and 65% of business travelers say an increased reliance on virtual work negatively impacts workplace culture
  • 44% of adults and 64% of business travelers agree that an increased reliance on virtual work negatively impacts productivity
  • 86% of employed Americans and 89% of business travelers say face-to-face interactions are important for establishing and maintaining relationships with coworkers
  • 85% of employed Americans and 88% of business travelers say face-to-face interactions are important for establishing and maintaining relationships with clients
  • 82% of employed Americans and 89% of business travelers say face-to-face interactions are important for professional trainings
  • 80% of employed Americans and 83% of business travelers say face-to-face interactions are important for keeping morale high

And it’s not even just the businesses who send travelers, the hotels who house people, and the travel services that get people from point A to point B. Business travel is a key component of the economy as a whole.

The Path Back

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, it felt like the crash was going to take over a half decade to recover. Many compared it to previous disruptions like the September 11 terrorist attacks and the great recession, expecting the path to recovery to take even longer. In 2021, GBTA pegged the official recovery at 2025.

In their February 2021 Business Travel Index Report, GBTA saw that year as one of survival and this year as one of recovery, seeing 21 percent and 38 percent growth over the prior year. But Omicron changed the game. Rather than simply being another surge, it might be the final surge.

But now it’s time for hotel operators to think about what they’ll need to do to capture the market. How are travelers changing? How will the amenities and expectations change alongside them? What will you need to do to lure both travelers and managers to choose you? The right combination will get you there, and everyone from boutique to branded hotels will have a chance to capture the market.

So what will you do? What should you do? Drop your plans in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with all the latest tips for hotel operators. We can’t wait to share parts two, three, and beyond to help you better plan your recovery.

Morgan Li: Supporting the Hospitality Space

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Recent Work: Boutique Hotels