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- Business travel could recover to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2024, per a Deloitte survey.
- Easing pandemic restrictions and more live events will likely boost business travel.
- But travel spending might be 10% to 20% lower than pre-pandemic levels due to inflation, per Deloitte.
There’s good and bad news for those hoping for a full recovery in business travel to pre-pandemic levels.
Corporate travel spending could rebound to 2019 levels by late 2024, per an April 10 survey of 334 global travel managers and executives by accounting firm Deloitte. Still, the entire travel spending pie could be 10% to 20% smaller than before the COVID-19 pandemic because of inflation, per the survey.
Of the 106 US-based respondents, 71% told Deloitte they expected companies to revert to 2019 travel spending levels by the end of 2024. In comparison, 68% of the 228 European respondents said business travel could recover to pre-pandemic levels by the end of next year.
Deloitte found that easing travel restrictions and live events will likely be the biggest drivers of the expected recovery.
“As of early 2023, international borders were finally truly open for the world’s biggest economies, with China being the last to clear the way for inbound and outbound trips,” Deloitte said in its report.
But rampant inflation globally means the overall spending is decreasing in real terms. Travel in 2023 and 2024 will still be impacted by an “environment of higher airfares and room rates,” per Deloitte.
As trip volumes increase, travel managers aren’t just contending with high prices — they are also facing tough supplier negotiations, per Deloitte. Additionally, people planning business trips must also consider the need to stay sustainable and climate-friendly, Deloitte said.
The rest of the industry has yet to echo the Deloitte survey’s optimism about business travel’s potential rebound. The research company Morning Consult surveyed 4,400 US adults and concluded in a February report that business travel would never return to normal.
“Budgets have been cut for reasons that hint at permanence, and far fewer workers are hitting the road — and they’re happy about it,” the Morning Consult report read.
Industry leaders have also recognized, since 2020, that there’ll likely be a permanent drop in business travel.
For one, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said in November 2020 that he expected 50% of business travel and more than 30% of days worked in offices would “go away” permanently.
“Now that it’s not the gold standard to say, ‘Yes, you flew all the way over to sit in front of me,’ and that you can do the virtual connection, it will be a very high threshold for actually doing that business trip,” Gates said.