As cases of Omicron continue to decrease, future business travel bookings are ticking back up. As of February 2022, 45% of travel managers said that their business travel bookings have increased, according to the latest poll from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).
In a month, the percentage of employees willing to travel has increased. In February 2022, 60% of respondents said their employees are somewhat willing to travel while 22% said very willing, according to the GBTA poll. In January 2022, 15% of employees said they were very willing to travel while 49% responded with somewhat willing to travel.
Half of the respondents feel that the worst of Omicron is behind us, but business travel will pick up slowly in the next three months. Only 17% believe that the Omicron variant will continue to weigh on business travel recovery in the next three months.
When asked if employees would prefer to travel in the future, 68% responded the same amount or more than they traveled before the pandemic, according to the poll.
"One comment received from a poll respondent readily sums it up: ‘Uncertainty is a huge wet blanket on [business] travel,’” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO of GBTA. “Despite the wave of Omicron and the ripple of challenges it has created, there are positive signs, and industry professionals continue to be optimistic for the long-term outlook of global business travel.”
Business travel is still nowhere near its pre-pandemic levels, but transaction recovery in the last week of February 2022 hit 51% of 2019 levels, a 23-point improvement from mid-January 2022, according to American Express Global Business Travel’s latest full-year financial results.
“We ended 2021 on a high note despite the Omicron impact in December, with financial results for the full year well ahead of our adjusted EBITDA forecast driven by a 119% increase in fourth quarter revenue and efficiencies from continued cost discipline,” said Paul Abbott, CEO of American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT). “We believe the business travel recovery is well underway and is gaining momentum with transactions reaching 51% of 2019 levels in the last week of February 2022.”
Global business travel spending is expected to rise in 2022 with full recovery expected in 2024, according to GBTA’s latest business travel index, an annual study of business travel spending and growth covering 73 countries.
Despite recovery setbacks in 2021, a year-over-year increase of 38% is expected in 2022, bringing global business travel spending back to over $1 trillion, according to GBTA. Recovery will continue into 2023, with global spending rising 23% year-over-year as more international and group travel comes back online.
“Of any year we’ve issued the BTI Outlook forecast, this one was the most anticipated and it’s no surprise,” said Neufang. “The business travel industry recognizes there are factors, related to COVID-19 and beyond, that could impact the road ahead over the coming years. However, there is optimism overall as the industry, companies, and travelers worldwide lean into recovery and the much-needed return to business travel.”
Recently, the new Omicron variant (BA.2) has been spreading in parts of Europe and Asia. It now accounts for about 72% of all new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While that’s up from about 55% a week ago, health experts aren’t ringing alarm bells. There is no indication the subvariant is more severe than the original Omicron, and, they say, the high level of immunity of the U.S. population from vaccines and previous infections is unlikely to make it a major threat.