Business travel in Western Europe is expected to experience one of the sharpest recoveries of any region by 2026, according to the most recent Business Travel Index Outlook annual forecast and outlook from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

Western Europe and what GBTA calls emerging Europe, which includes mainly Eastern European countries, were the only regions globally to experience spending declines in 2021, as COVID-19 impacted domestic and regional markets, according to the report.

Catherine Logan, regional vice president, Europe/Middle East/Africa and Asia-Pacific for GBTA, said that in 2021, Western Europe business travel spend continued to be hit by the pandemic more than that of any other region in the world.

As restrictions eased and borders reopened, she said, a significant pent-up demand led to a surge in business travel spend across the region. Europe regained ground in 2022 and is now forecast to become the fastest-growing business travel market in 2023, with spend expected to grow by 25.3%. Despite a healthy start to the year, said Logan, “there is caution as uncertainty continues due to rising inflation and economic crisis, all threatening to derail progress as we move further into 2023.”

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Other takeaways from the report included:

• The recovery in both Western and emerging Europe lagged relative to North America, Asia- Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East. In 2020, Europe’s business travel spend declined 58.1%, the second largest percentage drop of any global region. In 2021, most of the world saw a modest recovery; however, Europe was the only region that saw business travel spend continue to fall, declining an additional 15.4% to $139 billion.

• Despite earlier declines, Europe remains the third largest business travel region in the world, with 20% of global spend in 2022. Western Europe accounts for 86% of Europe’s business travel spend, while emerging Europe accounts for the remaining 14%.

• Western European business travel spending climbed 23% in 2022, recovering to $194 billion, or 58% of pre-pandemic spending levels.