Business Travel in Western Europe Expected to Fully Recover by 2024; Emerging Europe Set to Take Longer

COVID-19 variants, vaccination rates and disparate border controls continue to challenge recovery

Business travel recovery in 2021 proceeded at a slower, more cautionary pace than expected, particularly across Western Europe where business travel underperformed compared to other markets across the world. This is according to European-specific data from the latest business travel index–the BTI™ Outlook, from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the world’s largest business travel association.

According to the BTI global forecast, the recovery in global business travel is expected to be relatively strong over the next couple of years, with a full recovery in global business travel spend expected in 2024, ending the year on pace with the 2019 pre-pandemic spend of $1.4 trillion (USD), and a year sooner than previously forecast. However, whilst Western Europe will recover within this timeline, Emerging Europe (Eastern Europe) lags behind, with near recovery forecasted for 2025.

Covid-19 Variants Continue to Challenge Recovery.

According to a recent GBTA poll, respondents based in Europe (90%) are more likely to say they are concerned or very concerned about the revenue impact on companies in the business travel sector due to Omicron compared to those based in North America (79%). Respondents based in Europe (32%) are also more likely to report their company has introduced new restrictions on non-essential business travel or new travel requirements as a whole, due to Omicron variant, compared to those based in North America (12%).

Key takeaways for Europe from the Latest BTI Outlook:

  • Across Western Europe, business travel spending fell 59% in 2020 and 51% in Emerging Only North America fared worse over the same period, declining 60%.
  • These steep declines in business travel resulted in Western Europe’s share of global travel spend falling from 23% in 2019 to 20% in 2020.
  • European markets have lagged in 2021. Travel bans and a spike in Covid-19 cases in the back half of the year have plagued the recovery. Western Europe business travel expenditures are expected to decline a further 3.8% in 2021, whilst Emerging Europe travel expenditures are expected to gain only 10% from 2020 levels, lagging behind the global forecast of a 14% increase.

Forecasting a Strong Business Travel Recovery:

  • Over the next few years, however, European business travel is expected to recover strongly. This was evident during a brief period from August- September when European spending began to outpace the rest of the world.
  • Europe represents 10 of the top 20 business travel markets in the world. Five of the European markets (UK, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and Sweden) performed worse during the pandemic but are expected to recover quickly, three (Spain, France and Austria) are more resilient and have performed better during the pandemic and recovery to date. Two (Russia and the Netherlands) are flagging behind and whilst performed better through the pandemic, are showing signs of a slower recovery.
  • Business traveller sentiment is strong in the region, with 54% travellers expecting to be back to pre-pandemic levels of business travel by the end of 2022.
  • Whilst Western Europe is set to reach pre-pandemic spending levels in 2024, the BTI™ Outlook forecast does not expect Emerging Europe’s business travel spending to recover to the pre-pandemic peak until after 2025.

“Vaccination rates in Western Europe, are outstripping those in many other parts of the world, however the uncertainty around the variants has tempered recovery as covid cases have risen sharply through the last quarter of the year.  New lockdowns and changing travel bans, border requirements and quarantines, are challenging the pace of recovery and adding risk to the recovery forecasts. It is vital that the region has a common, traveller-based approach, to facilitate the ability to do business and to travel as we enter into 2022” said Catherine Logan, Regional Vice President – EMEA GBTA.

Country Highlights from the Latest BTI Outlook:

UK

  • Whilst Western Europe is set to reach pre-pandemic spending levels in 2024, the BTI™ Outlook forecast does not expect Emerging Europe’s business travel spending to recover to the pre-pandemic peak until after 2025.
  • Business travel spending in the UK fell slightly more than that of EU nations combined in 2020 and significantly underperformed against EU markets in 2021.
  • The UK saw a 17% decline vs. 1.6% decline across EU nations in 2021, as the UK’s economy and business travel sector suffered due to intermittent shutdowns.
  • Recovery in the UK is expected to be significantly stronger than that of the EU due to pent up demand, however Brexit will create longer-term challenges for the recovery.

France

  • Business travel spending in France fell 57% in 2020 and is expected to grow 1.3% in 2021. Further growth of 55.3% is expected in 2022, and 28.3% in 2023 before reaching pre-pandemic levels in 2024.
  • Recovery has been led by the growth in domestic business travel activity.

Germany

  • Business travel spending in Germany fell 62% in 2020 and is expected to fall another 7.4% in 2021, before rebounding by 75.9% in 2022. Business travel expenditure is forecast to fully recover by 2024.
  • Travel management policies remained tight in 2021 with significantly fewer German based companies allowing travel when compared to global firms.

Nordics

  • Business travel spending in the Nordics fell 58% in 2020 and is expected to fall another 1.3% in 2021.
  • Sweden was hit the hardest in 2020, with spending falling 64% but is expected to rebound by 13.3% in 2021.
  • Denmark is the only other Nordic country expected to post gains in 2021 (2.2%) while Finland and Norway are set to decline another 23% and 9%, respectively, this year.
  • The Nordics, is forecast to recover by 58.4% in 2022 and reach pre-pandemic levels in 2024.

Italy

  • Business travel spending in Italy fell 62% in 2020. Shutdowns and travel restrictions continue to hamper Italian business travel in 2021, which is set to decline another 4% this year before recovering 75% in 2022.
  • Recovery is set to continue from 2022-2024 with business travel spend exceeding pre-pandemic 2019 levels by 2024.

GBTA members can download a full copy of the BTI Outlook on the GBTA members-only hub. The report was conducted in partnership with Rockport Analytics, a research and analytical consulting firm, and made possible by HRS.

About GBTA BTI™ Outlook

The report provides a detailed analysis of business travel in 2021 with projections for 2022 and beyond, including post-COVID-19 recovery forecasts. Now in its 13th edition, the BTI Outlook is an exhaustive annual study of business travel spending and growth covering 73 countries across 44 industries. New first-time additions this year include survey insights from global senior financial executives as well as business travelers.

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