Despite another disruptive (and disappointing) year for business travel, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) is feeling bullish when it comes to the sector’s recovery in 2022 and beyond.
In fact, it expects global business travel spending to surge in 2022, with spend ultimately reaching 2019 levels by 2024 – a full year earlier than previously predicted. This is according to the GBTA’s annual business travel index, the BTI Outlook, which looks at business travel spend, insights and traveller sentiment across 44 industries from 73 countries.
If business travel is to reach 2019 levels (US$1,4trillion [R21,5 trillion]) in the next two years, it’ll mean a year-over-year surge of 38% in 2022.
But are business travellers ready to go? What do they want to get out of their trips? What’s changed? And what can business travellers expect in the months ahead?
Corporate Traveller GM, Oz Desai gave his insights on some of the report’s findings. “A significant take-out from the GBTA report is that 52% of C-suite respondents expect their company’s business travel spend to reach 2019 levels at some point in 2022.” He says business travel is critical when it comes to things like business growth, client relationship management, and employee training and development. But will a return to travel mean business as usual?
*Balance, bleisure and a return to normality
“Although people are desperate to ‘get back to normal’, there’s no doubt that COVID-19 has changed our priorities,” says Desai. “Hard lockdown removed pretty much everything except work – no travel, no socialising, no exercise, no balance in our lives. Business travellers will now demand more from their trips.”
According to Desai we can expect longer trips (in other words, quality over quantity) as well as a focus on health, wellness and personal growth.
“Ultimately, most corporate travellers are no longer satisfied to travel purely for business purposes. After having been starved of travel opportunities for almost two years, they want to add in an element of leisure and really make the most of the destinations that they visit.
“Luckily, companies and TMCs are paying attention and starting to offer ‘bleisure’ travel as an employee perk, accommodating ‘workcation’ requests or exploring opportunities for digital nomads. Not only is it an important shift in terms of employee wellbeing but it’s becoming increasingly important in terms of attracting – and keeping – the right talent.”
Alongside health and wellness, sustainable travel is also growing in importance. “Travellers are becoming more and more aware of their individual environmental footprint. They want to travel but without having a negative impact on the world around them,” says Desai. There are a number of ways that travel management companies can make a difference:
- TMCs can build a company’s sustainability goals directly into their travel policy; for example, by supporting greener hotels or suggesting suppliers with community-building projects and programmes.
- Carbon calculators can measure a trip’s carbon footprint, and companies can off-set their impact by investing in environmental projects around the world.
- Booking platforms can also suggest the ‘greenest’ route – often the most direct – which limits take-offs and reduces the journey time.
- Finally, new tech allows TMCs to create ‘sustainability dashboards’ to measure and track a client’s sustainability efforts.
“Ultimately, this means partnering with travel suppliers who can provide the right advice and guidance around sustainable travel – a must for post-pandemic, international travellers,” says Desai.
24/7 support and communication
Although the mood going into 2022 is (cautiously) optimistic, the travel industry is still facing plenty of uncertainty. Travel restrictions continue to change at short notice, and travellers can be forgiven for feeling a measure of trepidation.
“As such, business travellers are looking for 24/7 support and proactive, open, ongoing communication from their TMC. After-hours or emergency support is important – as is instant access to the latest travel information and alerts. Ideally, direct to a traveller’s mobile phone,” says Desai.
Risk monitoring and assessment
Unsurprising then that travel risk management will be top of mind in 2022. And, according to Desai, when it comes to risk, it’s always a good idea to enlist professional help.
“Chat to your TMC about their risk-management partners – as well as their duty-of-care capabilities. For example, Corporate Traveller operates a 24/7 emergency assist service, and has strong partnerships with airlines, hotels and ground transport providers so we can bring your travellers home quickly should the need arise.”
Traveller tracking is going to dominate tech advancements over the next few years, with customised safety dashboards and new-and-improved risk management solutions leading the way.
“International travel has always carried a measure of risk and unpredictability,” says Desai. “Just think of adverse weather events, volcanic ash, terror incidents, strikes and industrial action. COVID-19 has just added a little more uncertainty into the mix. Any TMC worth its salt will understand each destination’s unique risk profile, offer on-the-ground guidance and advice, be able to track your travellers, and bring them back safely.”
Perks, personal service and peace of mind
There’s little doubt that travellers are less than thrilled by the idea of pre-travel COVID tests (especially if another is required on landing), not to mention the admin of vaccination certificates and concerns about testing positive while away from home.
To make up for it, they’ll be expecting a little more TLC. “TMCs are doing a lot of work in terms of building traveller confidence through information, vetted suppliers and personalised service,” says Desai. “But their purchasing power means that they can also secure the best rates, deals and travel perks around. Which is music to the ears of both bookers and travellers alike. Think early check-in, late check-out, free upgrades, priority boarding and lounge access.”
If you ask a business traveller to compile their 2022 wish list, ease of travel, wellness and balance, new experiences and destinations, personal growth and peace of mind are likely to top their list. They want to know that they’re being properly looked after, prioritised, and heard.
“It’s essential for TMCs to pay close attention,” says Desai, “especially considering the role corporate traveller confidence will play in speeding up the industry’s revival.”