Travel Managers Weigh In on Business Travel’s Outlook for 2023

New report from GBTA and Spotnana reveals travel manager sentiment on post-pandemic recovery, changing priorities, economic risks, and balancing cost savings and the traveler experience

Alexandria, VA and New York City (March 16, 2023) – A majority of U.S. corporate travel buyers expect their company’s business travel to ramp up and return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023. Despite concerns about inflation and rising prices, only one in five travel managers say their companies have begun to limit business travel. Since the onset of the pandemic, however, demands on travel managers’ time and priorities have grown, including addressing traveler needs, conducting data analysis, and the increasing challenge to balance cost savings with the business traveler experience.

This is according to a new report – “How Travel Managers Will Succeed in 2023” – from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the world’s largest business travel association, and Spotnana, the modern infrastructure for the travel industry. The report is based on survey responses from 151 U.S.-based corporate travel buyers and addresses key questions, including when travel managers expect business travel to return to pre-pandemic levels, current and new priorities in their roles, and the travel program metrics they are now tracking.

“We wanted to look to those on the front lines who have been navigating all the changes happening in business travel for their expert insights and outlook on what might lie ahead. Tapping into the experiences and perspectives of travel managers provides valuable knowledge that can empower all stakeholders to optimize their business travel programs,” said Johnny Thorsen, VP Partnerships, Spotnana.

“This latest research not only provides travel managers with beneficial benchmarking data and a glimpse into the priorities of their peers, but also crucial insights for suppliers and other industry stakeholders to make informed decisions and stay ahead as they plan for the future of business travel,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA.
Here are some key highlights from the report:

  • RECOVERY CONTINUES ON TRACK. Travel managers largely expect most types of business travel will reach pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, including domestic business travel (74%), external meetings (77%), conference/group travel (76%) and internal meetings (69%).

    One in 10 travel managers, however, say they do not expect business travel volumes to return until 2025 or later, citing inflation and rising prices as the top concerns, followed by travel disruptions and a potential recession. Few feel business travel will never return to pre-pandemic levels, underscoring its importance for companies regardless of travel type.
  • BUSINESS TRAVEL GOES ON AS PLANNED. Most companies (64%) say they are unlikely to limit business travel, although many are taking a wait-and-see approach and not seriously considering limiting business travel (36%). Only one in five travel managers say their company (19%) is already implementing a plan to limit business travel.
  • BALANCING COST AND TRAVELER PRIORITIES. Both travel managers (54%) and senior leadership (65%) are prioritizing cost savings, but travel managers rank traveler experience higher (51%) than executives (42%), making it more challenging to obtain buy-in to focus beyond costs. The study highlights the increased importance of addressing travel experience metrics, especially as business traveler preferences continue to evolve.
  • A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A TRAVEL MANAGER NOW. When asked which tasks they dedicate more time to now compared to before the pandemic, travel managers most frequently cite traveler communications / answering questions (72%) and overseeing their travel management company (TMC) relationship (59%). They also spend more time on data analysis (52%) and risk management / traveler tracking (42%). Few report they spend less time on key travel program components, demonstrating the growing complexity of managed travel programs.
  • BENEFITS FROM COLLABORATION AND METRICS. Travel managers must collaborate with a number of stakeholders, the most commonly cited being finance / accounting (69%), senior leadership/C-suite (49%), and risk management/ security (44%). Only three in five (59%), however, regularly share travel-related performance metrics with senior leadership, revealing an opportunity for more regular reporting to demonstrate the value of a managed travel program and travel managers.

    Three in five travel managers (62%) say cost-focused metrics are the most important measures they will use to evaluate their program’s success in 2023. However, a notable number (32%) say travel experience-focused metrics will be the single most important measure they will use to gauge success.
  • OPPORTUNTIES FOR PARTNERS. Asked about their top TMC pain points, travel managers most commonly said agents / assistance (48%), data analysis / reporting / dashboarding (37%), and the ability of their TMC to deliver a “customized” travel program (33%). Concerning their primary OBT, travel managers identify end-user/traveler experience (49%), the ability to manage changes or cancellations (47%), and innovation (41%) as key pain points.

Data collection for the online survey of U.S.based travel managers took place from December 12, 2022, to January 3, 2023, with 151 qualifying responses received.

GBTA members can download the complete research report from the GBTA Hub. The report can also be downloaded on the Spotnana website.

On Wednesday, March 22 (11-12noon ET) join a free webinar for insights from the report and how travel managers will succeed in 2023 featuring Spotnana’s Johnny Thorsen, and GBTA Research Director, Chris Ely. Register here.