Global Business Travel Industry Sees Rebound in 2023 With Shifting Challenges and Opportunities for 2024

Latest GBTA Business Travel Outlook Poll reveals positive recovery sentiment, emerging forecasts, industry priorities and potential barriers for the year ahead

The majority of professionals in the global business travel industry say the sector has reached near-full recovery this year since the pandemic days of 2019. But even as business travel has rebounded, the industry is looking ahead at key areas poised for change and impact in 2024, with an emphasis around travel cost management strategies, sustainability, the transformation of retailing models, and the integration of emerging technologies.

This is according to the latest GBTA Business Travel Outlook Poll released today by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the premier trade association for the worldwide business travel industry. The global survey offers keen insights from industry professionals on the current state of business travel and the priorities and shifts expected for 2024. Over 860 global business travel buyers, suppliers, and other industry stakeholders from 46 countries shared their insights for this 32nd poll in GBTA’s long-running survey series.

“With some exceptions, as an industry global business travel has continued to rebound over the past year and has made great strides in getting back to business as usual. As our latest GBTA poll outlines, ongoing challenges are expected, but there are optimistic indicators for an even stronger year ahead as organizations continue to leverage business travel and face-to-face connections as a critical part of their strategy to achieve important and ambitious objectives,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the October 2023 GBTA poll:  

Business travel rebound continues in 2023

  • Most industry stakeholders surveyed (84%) report their company’s business travel in 2023 has either largely (43%) or mostly (41%) recovered when compared to their 2019 levels.
  • Domestic business travel bookings stand at 76% (up from 72% in the April 2023 GBTA poll). On the international front, bookings reached 70% of their 2019 levels (up from 63% in April).
  • Meanwhile, respondents report domestic business travel spending has reached 77% of pre-pandemic levels, while international spend sits at 74% (up from 74% and 66%, respectively, from April).

Challenges and barriers impacting the industry this year

  • Respondents say the top barriers that affected their business travel in 2023 have included corporate budgets keeping up with price increases (69%), inflation/recession concerns (63%), and geo-political events (44%). Suppliers (67%) are more likely than buyers (59%) to say inflation/recession concerns are a significant barrier.
  • On an aggregated basis, fewer stakeholders cite as top barriers workforce hiring/retention (28%), climate impact concerns (22%), travel confidence/willingness to travel (15%) and pandemic concerns (6%).
  • Buyers (44%) are more likely than suppliers (32%) to say travel disruption is a significant barrier. However, respondents overall say travel disruptions have had a slight to moderate impact on their employees’ willingness to travel for business, with only 11% of non-executive employees and 10% of executive employees reporting being greatly affected.
  • On a regional basis, stakeholders in Europe (54%) are more likely than in Asia-Pacific (23%), Latin America (23%) and North America (12%) to report climate impact concerns as a barrier. North America respondents (32%) are more likely than those in Europe (20%) to cite workforce hiring/retention as a significant barrier.

Ways of working and traveling for business

  • For 2023, more meetings of all type have been the norm. Travel buyers report increases in their employees attending in-person meetings and conferences (55%), holding virtual meetings (52%), blending travel (50%) and “linking” (multi-purpose or multi-destination) business trips (49%) versus 2022.
  • Hybrid work environments are dominant in the business travel sector, with 68% of stakeholders saying it is the current setup in their company. This has not changed from a year ago.

Priorities ahead for the industry

  • For 2024, 67% of travel buyers expect their travel budgets to increase (39%) or remain about the same (28%). Only one in ten (14%) buyers report they are currently implementing a plan to limit business travel because of economic concerns.
  • Cost management stands out as a top strategic priority, with 62% of respondents emphasizing its importance for their company’s business travel program. Traveler safety (44%) and sustainability (37%) followed closely.
  • A significant portion (63%) of those surveyed plan to ramp up their investment in technology and digitalization. Other areas of 2024 investment include sustainability initiatives (45%) and partnerships and alliances (40%).
  • When asked about their expenses for travel program management (i.e., salaries, consultants, travel management company fees, etc.), 48% of respondents say their company’s 2024 budget will increase significantly or moderately year over year.

Tackling emerging technology and AI

  • Nearly half (46%) feel new industry technologies, such as New Distribution Capability (NDC), will pose the most significant technological challenges in the year ahead. An additional third (38%) cite budget constraints and system integration (32%) related to technology.
  • The potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the industry in the next year remains split. About a third (32%) of all stakeholders are excited about AI, while another third (33%) feel it’s too early to predict its full impact.
  • Some travel buyers in the year ahead view implementing AI applications/tools in their corporate travel program as important (34%), but others say it is a low or non-priority (37%) for their program in 2024.
  • Two in five (42%) of all respondents say they have never used ChatGPT or another generative AI tool for work, while a third (33%) say they have only used it rarely.

Onward with NDC: the ongoing airline retailing evolution

  • NDC ─ a technology standard for making airline offers available to the customer regardless of the distribution channel ─ remains a focal point in the business travel sector. When asked to rank their risk-related priorities for 2024, one in five surveyed (22%) expect integrating NDC distribution channels will be most prioritized by their company. 
  • Most buyers (71%) strongly feel they still need more information and education on NDC (significantly high, but down from 81% in April) – and half (50%) say they have not started to implement NDC.
  • Almost half (45%) of buyers feel airlines are pushing NDC bookings too swiftly (down from 53% in April) and more feel third-party intermediaries (36%) should be ready to handle and service NDC bookings (up from 29% in April).
  • While 32% of buyers believe their travel management company (TMC) has a good grasp on NDC, almost half (46%) feel their TMC does not have sufficient NDC information or aren’t sure (23%).

Methodology: 865 responses were received from across North America, Europe, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific for the poll fielded October 11-19, 2023. View the complete October 2023 poll results and key highlights here, along with the full series of GBTA Business Travel Industry Outlook polls.