Business Travel Steers Toward Slow, Yet Steady Ascent

Staff Report

Thursday, April 21st, 2022

Key takeaways
  • Business travel spend is at least two years from reaching pre-pandemic levels: It is projected to reach 36% of 2019 levels in Q2 2022, and 55% by the end of the year.

  • The increase in companies offering flexible work arrangements will have an ongoing impact on business travel. One-quarter of companies say that working from home will lead to more travel to headquarters, but is likely to result in less travel overall­. Office-dominant companies are twice as likely to reach 2019 travel spending levels by the end of 2023.

  • For international travel, 1 in 4 respondents expect frequency of travel to Europe to near or exceed pre-pandemic levels this year. Asia and Latin America remain far behind in recovery expectations.

  • Three in 10 companies expect sustainability goals to result in an 11-25% reduction in travel budgets by 2025.

  • While in-person attendance is on the rise, conferences and events face another challenging year. These events offer valuable networking opportunities, but travel managers also rate content delivery more dependent on in-person participation than they did in 2021.

Why this matters

Even as COVID-19 health concerns and travel restrictions subside, corporate travel faces a complex prognosis. Many companies are now implementing the return to office plans they delayed last fall, and an increase in corporate travel is likely to accompany this shift. However, according to Deloitte's new report, "Reshaping the Landscape: Corporate Travel in 2022 and Beyond," a recovery to 2019 spending levels is not expected this year or next. While uncertainty around international relations and additional COVID-19 variants will continue to affect corporate travel, the scope of why and when employees are expected to travel for business is becoming clearer.

The study is based on a survey of 150 U.S.-based executives with travel budget oversight, fielded between Feb. 10 and Feb. 18, 2022.

Business travel set to take off in 2022, but pre-pandemic returns are delayed

Deloitte fielded its first corporate travel survey in June 2021, when a rebound appeared to be aligned with return to office plans initially set for the fall. However, as Delta was named a variant of concern a month later, many big companies pushed back their initiatives. Now, many of these same companies are reevaluating their overall approach to travel, driving travel managers to reduce their expectations while seeking opportunities to further increase the financial savings and environmentally friendly practices realized from two years of limited travel.

  • One-third (34%) of corporate travel managers surveyed in June 2021 expected to reach half of their 2019 travel spend by the end of 2021; however, only 8% achieved this milestone.

  • While 17% of travel managers anticipate a full recovery by the end of 2022, this is down significantly from the 54% who expected the same last summer.

  • Overall, strong growth is expected in 2022, but corporate travel spend is not expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels this year or next. Travel spend is expected to reach 36% of 2019 levels by the end of Q2 2022, increasing to 55% by the end of the year, and 68% by the end of 2023.

  • COVID-19 variants are a main consideration for this downward revision: Two-thirds of respondents (66%) say the Delta and Omicron variants caused them to push back travel timelines; 1 in 7 (15%) reported a significant rethink.

  • Travel restrictions and employee unwillingness to travel continue to be the largest deterrents for a full return; however, the influence of each is down 18% from 2021. Concerns about increased travel prices remain a persistent concern, yet increasing only slightly (1%) compared to summer 2021.

  • The return of live industry events is now among the top-five reasons for business travel. When considering the triggers for business travel, sustained low infection rates remain at the top of the list, followed by clients and employees returning to the office, and easing of quarantine requirements.