U.S. corporate travel buyers expect business travel to return to pre-pandemic levels by year's end.

U.S. corporate travel buyers expect business travel to return to pre-pandemic levels by year's end.

A majority of U.S. corporate travel buyers expect their company’s business travel to ramp up and return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023. Despite concerns about inflation and rising prices, only one in five travel managers said their companies have started to limit business travel, according to the Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA) new report “How Travel Managers Will Succeed in 2023.”  

Since the onset of the pandemic, however, demands on travel managers’ time and priorities have grown, including addressing traveler needs, conducting data analysis, and the challenge to balance cost savings with the business traveler experience.

The GBTA and Spotnana report is based on survey responses from 151 U.S.-based corporate travel buyers. It addresses key questions, including when travel managers expect business travel to return to pre-pandemic levels, current and new priorities in their roles, and the travel program metrics that they are now tracking.

“This latest research not only provides travel managers with beneficial benchmarking data and a glimpse into the priorities of their peers, but also crucial insights for suppliers and other industry stakeholders to make informed decisions and stay ahead as they plan for the future of business travel,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO of GBTA.

“We wanted to look to those on the front lines who have been navigating all the changes happening in business travel for their expert insights and outlook on what might lie ahead, “ said Johnny Thorsen, Spotnana’s vice president of partnerships. “Tapping into the experiences and perspectives of travel managers provides valuable knowledge that can empower all stakeholders to optimize their business travel programs,” said

According to the report, here are some top highlights:

  • Recovery continues on track. Travel managers expect most types of business travel will reach pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, including domestic business travel (74%), external meetings (77%), conference/group travel (76%), and internal meetings (69%).

    However, one in 10 travel managers said they do not expect business travel volumes to return until 2025 or later, citing inflation and rising prices as the top concerns, followed by travel disruptions and a potential recession. Few respondents felt that business travel will never return to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Business travel goes on as planned. Most companies (64%) said they are unlikely to limit business travel, although many are taking a wait-and-see approach and not seriously considering limiting business travel (36%). Only one in five travel managers responded that their company (19%) is already implementing a plan to limit business travel.
  • Balancing cost and travel priorities. Both travel managers (54%) and senior leadership (65%) have been prioritizing cost savings, but travel managers rank traveler experience higher (51%) than executives (42%), making it more challenging to obtain buy-in to focus beyond costs. The study highlighted the increased importance of addressing travel experience metrics, especially as business traveler preferences continue to evolve.
  • A day in the life of a travel manager now. When asked which tasks they dedicate more time to now compared to before the pandemic, travel managers most frequently cited traveler communications/answering questions (72%) and overseeing their travel management company (TMC) relationship (59%). They also spend more time on data analysis (52%) and risk management/traveler tracking (42%). Few reported that they spend less time on key travel program components, demonstrating the complexity of managed travel programs.
  • Benefits from Collaboration and Metrics. Travel managers must collaborate with stakeholders, the most commonly cited being finance/accounting (69%), senior leadership/C-suite (49%), and risk management/security (44%). But only three in five (59%) respondents said they regularly share travel-related performance metrics with senior leadership.

    Three in five travel managers (62%) said cost-focused metrics are the most important measures they will use to evaluate their program’s success in 2023. However, a notable number (32%) responded that travel experience-focused metrics will be the single most important measure they will use to gauge success.
  • Opportunities for partners. Asked about their top pain points, travel managers said agents/assistance (48%), data analysis/reporting/dashboarding (37%), and the ability of their company to deliver a “customized” travel program (33%). Concerning their primary OBT, travel managers identified end-user/traveler experience (49%), the ability to manage changes or cancellations (47%), and innovation (41%) as top pain points.

<caption>Most companies (64%) said they are unlikely to limit business travel, although many are taking a wait-and-see approach and not seriously considering limiting business travel (36%).

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