The Global Business Travel Association projects that business travel will not fully recover until 2026, rather than 2024 as previously forecast. That is a central finding from the latest 2022 GBTA Business Travel Index Outlook – Annual Global Report and Forecast published by GBTA and made possible by Mastercard. Unveiled at the GBTA Convention 2022 taking place in San Diego, the GBTA BTI is an annual study of business travel spending and growth covering 73 countries and 44 industries. Now in its 14th edition, this latest report outlines the top-level outlook for global business travel 2022 to 2026.  Suzanne Neufang, CEO of GBTA, said that to understand the “headwinds” that have been impacting a more accelerated recovery for global business travel, “all you have to do is look at the news headlines since the beginning of 2022.” The factors impacting many industries around the world, she said, are also anticipated to impact global business travel recovery into 2025. The forecasted result, said Neufang, is “we’ll get close, but we won’t reach and exceed 2019’s pre-pandemic levels until 2026.”

Highlights from the latest BTI Outlook:

  • Total spending on global business travel reached $697 billion in 2021, 5.5% above the pandemic-era low of 2020. Last year was nearly as challenging as 2020 for the global business travel industry, as it sought to carve out a “new normal” following the pandemic. The industry gained back roughly $36 billion of the $770 billion lost in 2020.

• Recovery was short-circuited by the Omicron variant and spike in global COVID-19 cases in late 2021 and early 2022. As case numbers began to retreat, business travel surged. Global business travel spending in 2022 is expected to advance 34% over 2021 levels to $933 billion, recovering to 65% of pre-pandemic levels.

• Recovery in 2022 was dependent upon and has been largely driven by improvement in the four factors of global business travel recovery — the global vaccination effort, national travel policies, business traveler sentiment, and travel management policy.

• Deteriorating economic conditions and shifting secular trends in 2022, however, have slowed global recovery. Hence, global business travel will almost achieve pre-pandemic levels in 2025, reaching $1.39 trillion.

• Global spending is not expected to make it fully back to the $1.4 trillion mark until mid-2026, when it is forecast to reach $1.47 trillion. This adds an estimated 18 months more to the industry’s recovery than was forecast in the previous GBTA Business Travel Index released in November 2021.

• The 2022 BTI finds the biggest obstacles to more accelerated recovery in global business travel are persistent inflation, high energy prices, severe supply chain challenges and labor shortages, a significant economic slowdown and lockdowns in China, and major regional impacts due to the war in Ukraine as well as emerging sustainability considerations.

• North America led the recovery in 2021, driven largely by rapidly returning domestic travel. Western Europe was the one region to witness spending declines last year as COVID-19 impacted its domestic and regional business travel markets. Both regions are expected to experience the sharpest recoveries, with compound annual growth increases of 23.4% (to $363.7 billion) in North America and 16.9% (to $323.9 billion) in Western Europe by 2026.