A majority of global managers surveyed by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) said their companies are allowing domestic and international employee travel, and travel suppliers continue to cite increased travel bookings from their corporate customers. Conference attendance is also back, according to the survey — stronger than in 2019 as an overall share of business travel budgets. Current affairs and economic concerns, however, are also now in the mix and are having a significant impact on travel programs, according to industry stakeholders. And as the world starts traveling for work again, companies are also considering their policies for employees who aren’t quite ready to get back on the road or in the air. These are the key findings from the June 2022 Business Travel Recovery Poll, the 28th in a series.

Suzanne Neufang, CEO, said that as COVID-19 becomes more manageable in many regions, companies and employees are getting back to traveling for business, fueled by the need to get back to business. “We are now seeing, however, other factors beyond COVID-19 coming into play,” she said, “that could affect the speed and trajectory of recovery for business travel as we head into the second half of 2022.”

Among the findings of the survey:

  • Domestic travel is out in front; international travel continues to follow. A majority of business travel industry respondents report nonessential domestic business travel is sometimes or usually allowed (89%) at their company, along with nonessential international business travel (78%). Overall optimism in the business travel industry also continues, with more than 4 in 5 travel suppliers (88%) reporting they feel more optimistic compared with a month ago. Few (4%) say they feel more pessimistic about the path to recovery.
  • Travel bookings continue to rebound. Most travel suppliers and travel management companies (84%) report their bookings have increased compared with the previous month.
  • The issues “du jour” for travel managers are changing. The pandemic is not the only — or even the top — issue travel managers are juggling right now. Corporate travel buyers cite government policies/restrictions (43%), COVID infection rates (38%) and staffing shortages (33%) as having a significant impact on their corporate travel programs. Rounding out the top six for travel buyers in terms of impacts to their programs are supply chain bottlenecks (30%), inflation (28%) and oil prices (27%).
  • Travel suppliers have issues, too. Travel suppliers share some of the same challenges as travel managers, but also some that differ. They report their travel programs are most impacted by staffing shortages (51%), inflation (37%), government restrictions and COVID infection rates and variants (tied at 36%). Rounding out their list are oil prices (33%), strength of the economy/risk of recession (33%) and increased wage demands (31%).
  • 2022 travel spending, in a word, is meetings. In-person meetings are at the top of the list for where companies are allocating their business travel spend this year. With customer and prospect meetings (31%); conferences, trade shows and industry events (21%); and internal meetings with colleagues (17%) earmarked for a majority of their travel spend, it’s clear, said GBTA, that face-to-face gatherings are seen as key to company strategies, objectives and culture. And spending for conferences as a share of overall business travel spend is expected to be up 4 percentage points in 2022 compared with 2019.
  • Who’s traveling now? On average, respondents estimate a third (33%) of employees at their company have jobs that require regular business travel. Nine in 10 (88%) GBTA buyer and procurement members feel their employees are “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business in the current environment. Very few (3%) are either unsure or don’t feel their employees are currently willing to travel for business (1%).
  • And what if they won’t? Fewer than half (46%) of respondents say their employees are somewhat or very concerned about COVID-19 when it comes to returning to business travel, and 38% when it comes to returning to the office. So how are companies addressing employees who do not want to travel for business due to COVID-19 risks? The majority are letting their employees make the call. Of the 65% who report their company has an opt-out process for those concerned about COVID-19 risks for business travel, 63% of respondents say their employees can opt out of any trip they are uncomfortable taking, while 31% say opt-out requests are addressed on a case-by-case basis. An additional 4% report employees can opt out of business travel based on certain predefined circumstances or specific health conditions.GBTA conducted this poll among its members and other business travel industry professionals, including travel buyers and travel suppliers globally, from June 6-17, 2022. A total of 547 responses were received.