Business travel spending, a key indicator of the overall health of the U.S. economy, is expected to advance by 5 percent in 2011, according to the latest "Business Travel Quarterly Outlook - United States" from the NBTA Foundation, the education and research arm of the National Business Travel Association (NBTA). 

Overall growth of business travel spend in 2010 is estimated at 2.3 percent - in sharp contrast to the 14.1 percent drop in spend the business travel industry experienced in 2009. 

Business Travel Index Indicates Recovery

The Business Travel Index (BTI) provides a way to distill market performance and the outlook for business travel into a single metric that can be tracked over time. The BTI unexpectedly declined in the third quarter 2010 to 103 from 106 in the second quarter 2010 as trip volume was lower than expected. However, the third quarter 2010 BTI was substantially higher than third quarter 2009, when the BTI stood at just 99. 

The outlook for the BTI is optimistic, with an estimated fourth quarter 2010 BTI of 108, forecasted to remain at 108 through the first quarter 2011. The BTI remains projected to reach its previous peak of 120 in late 2012.  

Michael W. McCormick, NBTA Executive Director and COO said, "Our research is ringing in the new year with reason for cautious optimism. Based on the way 2010 began, the year wrapped up better than expected thanks to a number of factors including higher than expected GDP, stronger exports and very strong corporate profits. These trends are translating into greater business travel spending as companies invest in travel to drive revenues and compete aggressively in a recovering economic environment."

"International outbound travel in particular remains strong and should continue to grow through 2012 as American companies seek opportunity in robust export markets," he continued. "2011 should also see a welcome recovery in the group travel market after a number of very difficult years. Companies are once again recognizing the value of face to face meetings with customers, prospects, partners and colleagues to build relationships and set the stage for top-line growth." 

International Travel Shows Strong Growth

International business travel spending growth led the way in 2010, driven by a surge in export-driven commerce. For 2010, outbound U.S. international business travel spending is estimated to grow by 16.9 percent - versus the 32.1 percent decline it saw in 2009. International spending is forecasted to increase more modestly in 2011 - 3.2 percent - as a result of a weakening dollar. 

Group Business Recovering

After taking a massive hit in the 2007-2010 period when group person-trip volume dropped 17.5 percent, group travel flattened out over the course of 2010. 2011 should be a year of solid recovery for group travel - with a projected growth rate of 5.5 percent for trips and 3.2 percent for spending. 

Q1 2011 - A Look Ahead

For the first quarter of 2011, total U.S. business travel spending is projected to be $58.8 billion, slightly higher than an estimated $58.7 billion for the fourth quarter 2010 and 6.7 percent greater than $55.1 billion in the first quarter 2010. 

Total trips for the first quarter 2011 are projected at 109.9 million, 8.6 percent higher than 101.2 million in the first quarter 2010. 

Key Metrics