New International Border Openings Set to Accelerate Lift in Business Travel

Latest GBTA poll also reports increased industry optimism, a rise in business travel bookings, support for vaccine programs and an eagerness to get back to traveling for work

Optimistic signs of return and tangible recovery in the business travel sector could be seen over the past month. In the latest poll from The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), half (52%) of industry respondents reported more optimism compared to September. October also saw an increase to 66% of those polled who said their companies are allowing non-essential domestic business travel and, in a high for the year, 42% international travel, while more than half of suppliers (55%) say their bookings from corporate customers increased from last
month.

Three in four (74%) indicated support for the opening of U.S. borders (now slated for November 8) with the required protocols, with seven in 10 expecting an increase in international business travel over the next six months as a result. GBTA members and stakeholders strongly agree that reduced infection rates and increased vaccinations will accelerate business travel at their company, with 59% indicating increased vaccination rates around the world would be a top driver.

“There’s still a road ahead for recovery but we’re delighted to see the opening up of borders and a return to non-essential business travel. While we have seen ever-increasing domestic and short-haul travel, a more accelerated recovery has been hindered by the lack of international trans-Atlantic travel. The opening of the much-anticipated Europe and UK to U.S. travel corridors, as well as the opening of land borders to Canada and Mexico, will give a much-needed boost to the business travel ecosystem and global economy,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA. “Safety and duty of care continue to be of upmost importance to our members, who overwhelmingly support vaccine programs as well as smart travel policies to ensure a safe return to business travel, meetings and events.”

The October poll from GBTA, the world’s largest business travel association and worldwide leader in education, research, networking, and advocacy for the industry, is the 24th in a series tracking the pulse of GBTA’s membership of global travel buyers, suppliers, and other stakeholders on how the business travel industry overall is navigating the return to travel, post pandemic.

Here are some highlights from the October GBTA poll:

  • SUPPORT AND EXPECTATIONS FOR U.S. BORDER OPENINGS. Support is strong for the U.S. policy to open borders with new requirements for international visitors to enter the U.S., including proof of vaccinations status, and proof of a negative COVID -19 test result within three days of travel departure. Three in four U.S.-based GBTA members and stakeholders strongly support (50%) or support (24%) the policy and one in five (17%) are neutral of the policy.
    Additionally, seven in 10 (73%) respondents believe the U.S. policy will greatly or moderately increase international business travel to the U.S. in the next six months. One in four (26%) believe the policy will only slightly increase international business travel to the U.S.
  • OPTIMISM COMING BACK. Supplier and travel management company staff are more optimistic about the industry’s path to recovery compared to a month ago. Half (52%) report they feel more optimistic compared to a month ago (22% in the September poll). Only one in ten (10%) say they feel more pessimistic about the industry’s path to recovery compared to a month ago (27%).
  • GREENLIGHTING BUSINESS TRAVEL. The October poll saw an increase to 66% in respondents reporting their companies usually or sometimes allow non-essential domestic business travel, up from 61% in September. Non-essential international business travel followed a similar trend, up to 42% (from 34% in September).
  • ROAD WARRIORS ARE READY. Among those who stated they have traveled less or much less for business than they did pre-pandemic, seven in ten (70%) say they miss traveling for business and are eager to travel for business more in the future. One in five (21%) do not miss traveling for business and wouldn’t mind traveling less in the future and 10% are unsure. Respondents based in Europe (31%) are more likely to not miss business travel compared to those in North America (19%).
    Three in four (78%) GBTA buyer and procurement members feel their company’s employees are “willing” or “very willing”’ to travel for business in the current environment. After two months of declines, this figure increased 10 percentage points from September, and has now surpassed its summer peak (77% in June and July). Over four in five (85%) respondents report they currently travel “less” or “much less” than before the pandemic, whereas one in ten (14%) report they travel about the same amount as before. Only 2% report they travel “more” or “much more” than before the pandemic.
  • DRIVERS OF BUSINESS TRAVEL’S RETURN. GBTA members and stakeholders strongly agree reduced infection rates and increased vaccinations will accelerate the volume of business travel at their company. Top drivers include increased vaccination rates around the world (59%); increased vaccination rates across the region or country (39%); and increased employee vaccination rates (33%). Three in four (77%) say the overall reduction in COVID-19 transmission rates at venues where their company would hold or attend meetings would increase their volume of business travel.
  • VACCINE PROGRAM SUPPORT. Nine in 10 (90%) respondents report they are fully vaccinated. This includes 89% of travel managers and 92% of travel suppliers. And support for vaccine requirements is strong, including:
Support government policies that would require proof of full vaccination to do the following: Yes No Don’t Know
Fly domestically 65% 27% 8%
Fly internationally 74% 19% 8%
Travel on a train 65% 28% 7%
Stay in a hotel 51% 38% 10%
Rent/hire a car 44% 44% 12%
Eat in a restaurant 53% 39% 8%
Attend larger conferences, larger meetings, and events 69% 24% 7%
  • NO MANDATE, NO BARRIERS. Companies do not largely mandate vaccinations to conduct key business functions.
Does your company require employees to be fully vaccinated to…? Yes No
Travel for business and/or meet clients or customers face-to-face 40% 60%
Return to the office and work from the office 37% 63%
Attend meetings, conferences, and events 41% 59%

Respondents based in Europe (73%) are more likely than respondents based in North America (58%) to say they do not require vaccinations to travel to travel for business and/or meet clients or customers face-to-face. Likewise, respondents based in Europe (85%) are more likely than those based in North America (59%) to say they do not require vaccinations to travel to return to the office and work from the office.

  • WILL DOCUMENTATION DELAYS DAMPEN RECOVERY? GBTA members and stakeholders raised concern about the impact of delays for issuing passports and visas on the resumption of international business travel. Half (52%) are either very concerned or concerned about passport and visa delays impacting international business travel and an additional one in four (25%) are neutral about the impact. Approximately one in five (17%) are not too concerned.
  • SOME OFFICES OPEN, FLEXIBLE WORKING THE NORM. Two-thirds of respondents (67%) still have significant flexibility to work from home. This includes those who say their company’s offices largely have not re-opened (31%) or have permanently closed (2%), and those who say their offices have re-opened but employees can choose to work from the office or from home (34%). Over half (55%) of respondents say their company treats office re-openings consistently across all locations, while one-third (33%) do not. However, an additional one in ten (11%) do not know.
    One-third (31%) of respondents note their company’s offices have not largely reopened, and the majority of employees continue to work from home/remotely. Respondents based in North America (34%) are more likely than those based in Europe (15%) to say their company’s offices have not largely reopened, and the majority of employees continue to work from home/remotely.

You can view details and key highlights from GBTA’s October 2021 poll as well as the entire poll series here.

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