Chart courtesy of the Global Business Travel Association

Chart courtesy of the Global Business Travel Association

Global business travel spend approached $1.3 trillion USD in 2016, advancing only 3.5% over 2015 levels, according to the “GBTA BTI Outlook – Annual Global Report & Forecast,” a new report released by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Foundation.

For the second straight year in 2016, China topped the charts, surpassing the United States as the largest business travel market in the world, according to the report. The top 15 remained unchanged from last year — with the exception of India increasing two spots.

Pending many global uncertainties, business travel spending is expected to accelerate significantly in 2018, advancing 6.1%, followed by roughly 7% growth in both 2019 and 2020, according to the report. Business travel spending gains have not reached this level since 2011.  

“Global business travel remains a critical driver of the success of organizations around the globe,” said Michael W. McCormick, GBTA’s chief operating officer and executive director. “Stronger footing in emerging markets and continued economic stimulus in the developed world has supported global stability leading to a positive forecast that is unfortunately clouded with more uncertainty than we have seen in decades.”

According to the report, many signs show the global economy is improving. Consumers are spending, trade and investment are on the rise, corporate profits and management sentiment are strong, commodity prices have stabilized, recessions in Brazil, Russia, and Argentina have ended, and China’s soft landing continues.

Taking these factors into account, business travel growth looks solid over the coming years; however, uncertainty still abounds. Political polices, geopolitical tensions, and financial concerns have intensified, according to the report. The Global Economic Policy Uncertainty Index, which began in 1997, has hit an all-time, 20-year high.  

Some sources of uncertainty could ultimately have a positive impact on business travel as lower corporate tax rates are pushed forward and business regulations are rolled back as infrastructure investment increases around the globe, says the report. Other factors will have a more negative impact on business travel, including trade policy renegotiation, terrorism, travel and immigration bans, sanctions, electronics bans, and geopolitical tensions.