People who previously enjoyed travel for pleasure before the pandemic are eager to get back to it. Reservations for airport transfers has soared in the past few weeks. However, our business travelers seem to be lagging in getting back out on the road.
While things are certainly getting back to normal, it is a different normal: domestic travel is surging, but international travel is still depressed given the ongoing concerns about health and safety in other countries.
By definition, leisure travel is discretionary. Business travel is less discretionary. In 2018, business-travel spending reached $1.4 trillion, which was more than 20 percent of the total spending in the hospitality and travel sector. During and after the pandemic, though, there are many questions about business travel in the new normal: Exactly when is it necessary to actually travel? The answer to this question is almost certain to be answered much differently than pre-pandemic times. Video calls and remote collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Monday.com that enable remote working, could replace some onsite meetings and conferences. However, there will always be a need for face-to-face-meetings, conventions and networking opportunities.
History has shown us that, after each recession, business travel always takes a longer period than leisure travel to bounce back to normal levels. After the 2008–09 financial crisis, for example, international business travel took a total of five years to recover, compared with only two years for international leisure travel.
Regional and domestic business travel is starting to rebound as some companies and industry sectors want to resume in-person sales and customer business meetings as soon as they can safely do so. Peer pressure will play a part in the recovery as companies watch their competitors go back to traveling and will be threatened by the more personal, face-to-face meetings. A survey of business-travel managers found that they are expecting business-travel spending in 2021 to be about half of what was spent in 2019. While business travel will return on a scaled down version, many meeting planners expressed that travel may never return to the level spent in 2019.
In short, leisure travel is driven by those with disposable cash and a desire to explore life and to enjoy what the world has to offer. That will never change. In fact, since travel restrictions and state issued mandates have been relaxed, one of the first things people are doing as they get out of their homes is to travel. Whether than means a driving trip or a flight across the country or world, the leisure travel will continue to increase. There is no reason to believe that the rise in global prosperity will reverse itself or that human curiosity will diminish. But the use of technology such as Zoom and GoToMeeting during the pandemic could be the beginning of a long-term structural change in business travel.