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The latest GBTA Business Traveler Sentiment Index™, in partnership with American Express, shows business travelers enjoy most elements of the travel experience. Satisfaction is highest with staying at hotels (78 percent), the overall travel experience (73 percent) and making travel arrangements (73 percent).
While satisfaction levels are high, a decline of 3.7 percentage points in the Index from Wave 2 (98.7) to Wave 3 (95.1) of this research was observed, meaning the overall trip experience for business travelers has worsened quarter over quarter.
The Main Culprit – Declining Satisfaction with Getting Through Airport Security
Satisfaction with getting through security at the airport declined significantly in the past three months, dropping from 55 percent in the second quarter to 45 percent this quarter. The experience with traveling on an airplane declined as well (59 percent to 55 percent), although to a lesser extent, which is very likely linked to the frustrations with airport security. This is an area to watch because if getting through security continues to drag down satisfaction with air travel, it may begin to have a negative impact on the impressions of business travel more generally.
Losing Faith in the Economy?
Another concern raised in the study centers around confidence in the economy. While the Corporate/Macroeconomic component of the Index does not have nearly the same impact as the Overall Trip Experience and Travel Friction component that includes airline security, business travelers losing faith in the overall economy is nothing to ignore.
The percentage of travelers who believe the overall health of the economy is excellent dropped from 32 percent in the second quarter to just 21 percent this quarter. This is despite the fact that travelers’ views of the health of their own company or industry remained virtually unchanged and much more positive, respectively. More than half of business travelers feel their own company is in excellent financial shape (62 percent) and that the overall health of their industry is excellent (51 percent). Interestingly, those who have traveled 11 or more times in the past three months are also more likely to believe the health of their industry is excellent (62 percent).
Meeting Business Objectives
Going back to the high satisfaction levels with the overall business trip experience, a traveler meeting the objectives set out for their business trip is a factor that should not be underestimated. Statistics show business trip satisfaction is largely dictated by the successful completion of the trip’s objectives. In fact, 7 in 10 overall and 8 in 10 travelers working for companies with less than 100 employees say traveling for work helps them accomplish their annual goals.
Business travelers this quarter were more satisfied with their ability to meet the business goals of their trips than in the second quarter (83 percent compared to 79 percent). Because business travelers see hitting the road for work as a way to accomplish both short- and long-term goals, companies should equip their travelers with the tools and education they need to have a successful trip.
A new study released today from the GBTA Foundation, in partnership with American Express, reveals that Millennials are significantly more likely to want to travel more for business than Baby Boomers (45 percent to 26 percent, respectively). In addition, a majority of Millennials (57 percent) believe technology can never replace face-to-face meetings to get business done.
The study dug deeper to find out how Millennials feel about many things related to business travel.
Airline and Airport Amenities
When it comes to airline and airport amenities, Millennials, not surprisingly, have different desires than Baby Boomers. When asked to select one amenity all airlines should offer, Millennials care more about free Wi-Fi on flights than Baby Boomers (30 percent compared to 17 percent) and are less likely than Baby Boomers to want free checked bags (34 percent compared to 47 percent). They are also much more likely to book a flight offering free Wi-Fi than Baby Boomers (49 percent compared to 39 percent).
At the airport, Wi-Fi is again paramount for Millennials, with 54 percent looking for free Wi-Fi compared to 44 percent of Baby Boomers. In fact, it is even more important to them than getting through security smoothly. Business travelers overall rank getting through security easily (52 percent) top among airport amenities. When you break it down by age group though, only 35 percent of Millennials compared to 59 percent of Boomers find this important. As most Millennials are only familiar with business travel post-9-11 travel procedures, the current practices may not seem as laborious to them as older travelers.
When booking hotels, it is very important for business travelers to be close to the place they need to visit for work (87 percent), however, all things being equal, three quarters (76 percent) also say they are more likely to stay at a hotel offering free Wi-Fi than at one that does not. When looking at other hotel features, Millennials are much more interested in having access to a pool or fitness center than Baby Boomers (53 percent compared to 40 percent) while access to a business center is more important to Baby Boomers (56 percent).
Corporate Cards Over Personal Cards
Business travelers overall are more satisfied with using a corporate card (77 percent) for expenses on the road than their personal card (62 percent) and Millennials show the greatest preference for using corporate cards rather than their personal ones.
Younger business travelers are much more likely to use social networking for a variety of purposes when traveling for work than their older cohorts. Whether it is to meet up with friends (46 percent compared to 31 percent of overall business travelers) or colleagues (33 percent compared to 24 percent) or to research company reviews (37 percent compared to 28 percent), Millennials much more often turn to social networking sites for making plans and decisions when on the road for work than business travelers overall.
Understanding the wants and needs of Millennial business travelers can help both travel buyers and suppliers to create a more satisfactory business travel experience for this newest group of road warriors. Stay tuned for another post on the GBTA Business Traveler Sentiment Index™, in partnership with American Express, to learn more about how business travelers feel about their travel experience and how those feelings affect their actual behaviors related to travel.
The GBTA Foundation released its quarterly U.S. business travel forecast last week. It included a projection that average airfares have dropped to $379 this year, down from $392. This is a long anticipated drop for consumers due to the collapse in global oil prices.
I talked about this phenomenon with Fortune’s Chris Elliott who wrote that while airfares are falling, it may not feel that way. This is because at the same time we are seeing airfares fall, we are seeing record revenue for airlines from ancillary fees – hitting more than $6.5 billion in 2014, and that is just for baggage fees and reservation change/cancellation fees.
The average business traveler and their travel buyer are likely noticing a continuation of expanding fees for various ancillary services from early boarding privileges and extra legroom to WiFi and on-board food. They may also see hikes in fees they are used to like baggage and change fees.
Profitable airlines are no doubt a good thing for our industry, especially when airlines reinvest that money not just to benefit their shareholders, but to benefit the consumer experience. Still, any time expenses for business travelers go up, it puts pressure on companies who are trying to stretch their travel dollars as far as possible. Looking long term, any increase in the cost of doing business, such as business travel, will lead to increases in prices for the goods and services these companies produce. This presents a challenge for everyone and will certainly be something to keep an eye on.