The Optimism of Business Travel Moving into 2022

There’s good news on the horizon for corporate travel and expense: The U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Recovery Insights Dashboard, which is updated monthly, reveals steady improvements happening at a faster pace than originally expected. This stretches across key metrics such as hotel demand, air trips booked, travel spending, and group room nights.

The message is echoed by the Global Business Travel Association, which revealed that 77% of members and stakeholders feel their employees are willing to travel for business in the current environment.

This improved outlook is corroborated by the latest report from Skift and TripActions, The State of Corporate Travel and Expense 2022. It incorporates survey-based feedback from over 1,100 global finance and corporate travel and spend managers, as well as 500+ business travelers and includes insights from industry leaders.

The Travel Industry Is Dependent on Corporate Travelers

Despite the ever-evolving pandemic-related challenges, the corporate world’s commitment to business travel remains undiminished. As Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, states in the Skift Report:

“A thriving travel industry—and the broader U.S. economy—is dependent on the return of business travel. Americans are eager to reconnect with colleagues in person, via business meetings, conferences, and conventions.”

Survey results from the Skift Report back this up. On average, 63% of business travelers identified attending conferences and events as “essential” client travel, and fostering existing business relationships or creating new ones as “very or somewhat important” reasons for business travel this year and next.

Two Driving Forces: Cabin Fever & Fear of Missing Out

One of the driving forces behind the desire for increased corporate travel, according to McKinsey, is the “cabin fever effect”—road warriors cooped up in their homes on endless video conferences.

Another factor is the “fear of missing out,” says McKinsey. In fact, “The bulk of business travel will be fueled by the FOMO segment: those traveling to cultivate important client relationships.”

The Skift Report supports the McKinsey data: “Policy makers are aligned with business travelers on establishing new business relationships (63%) and essential client related travel (61%) as travel priorities. While still focused on getting back to business, workers also desire some work-life balance and a return to the fun and adrenaline of being on the road.”

Impact of Remote Work on Business Travel

There’s a lot of buzz around how remote work will interrupt and forever transform meetings and corporate travel. But this common perception doesn’t compute with reality. A study from Dallas-based global event producer Freeman found that 85% of respondents called live events “irreplaceable because of their ability to drive commerce and networking that creates partnerships and innovation.”

The Freeman feedback conforms with the findings from the Skift Report—that most respondents still recognize the advantages of meeting in person over the phone or video screen. Well-versed in the value of face-to-face engagement, 73% of business travelers “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that meeting in person is more effective than meeting virtually.

Looking ahead, business travelers (61%) and program managers (62%) equally believe that remote work may impact both the frequency (61% and 62%, respectively) and the purpose (both at 58%) of business trips. But even as more employees go remote, the belief is that travel frequency will increase.

New Habits Bode Well for Future Business Travel

While there’s been an uptick in remote work job listings and company rankings of remote-friendly firms, the traditional workplace is not in danger of going the way of the dinosaur.

As noted in the Skift Report, “Only 15% of business travelers and 23% of CTDMs expect their offices to go fully remote after the pandemic. The majority, 66% and 63%, respectively, anticipate returning to the office at least some of the time.”

In fact, remote work is providing new opportunities for collaboration and work trips as business travel returns. Many organizations are setting up offsites and extended visits to corporate headquarters to strengthen company culture.

The Skift Report supports this trend: “A full 63% of employees and 60% of CTDMs strongly or somewhat agree they’re excited by the idea of regular company offsites or get-togethers. These new business travel habits bode well for future business travel demand.”

In short: Despite the speed bumps, business travel is returning. It’s a trend supported by both corporate travelers and decision makers, who understand the power of in-person meetings. With so many people clamoring to get back on the road, all signs point to even greater growth moving into 2022.

Download the Skift Report to discover more reasons to be optimistic about business travel going into 2022.