In recent months, there has been some encouraging news about the return of the road warrior. In a recent survey of business travelers commissioned by insurance company Chubb, 54% from North America indicated they were OK with domestic flying and 52% of survey respondents were comfortable staying in a hotel. Only 39% were comfortable eating in restaurants and renting cars, while 30% would take a taxi or For-Hire Vehicle (FHV).
Larger meetings and conventions may be slowest to return. Just 18% of North American business travelers said they would find it acceptable to attend an event with over 100 people.
Although such numbers are moving targets, confidence in business travel appears to be on the rise, as vaccination rates go up. By early May, 45% of the US population (almost150 million people) had at least one dose. Meanwhile, COVID positive test rates are trending down. Nationally, positive tests were at about 5% nationally, down from a January 2021 high of 13.3%.
The entire U.S. travel industry ($1.1 trillion in 2019, measured by traveler spending) has been damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. But no sector has been harder hit than business travel, which was a $334.2 billion market in the U.S. in 2019, supporting 2.5 million jobs. One estimate says U.S. business travel declined 54% in 2020; other measurements are even higher.
With the widespread adoption of videoconferencing platforms like Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx and Zoom, some are suggesting that a large portion of the business travel market may never come back. Similar comments followed the travel pause after 9/11, almost 20 years ago – but business travel did rebound and grow. However, the 2001-2002 “pause” was much shorter than the still-ongoing pandemic disruption, and available bandwidth and videoconferencing technology have vastly improved, making inexpensive and relatively reliable videoconferencing a legitimate alternative. Despite that, face-to-face meetings have long been considered essential for business – and mass U.S. vaccinations have changed perceptions for many.
As for 2021, a GBTA Business Travel Survey suggested that “ roughly 60% of respondents expect to resume domestic business travel in the third and fourth quarter of the year.”