Omicron dampens near-term momentum for business travel: GBTA

Ongoing uncertainty, government restrictions and variant impacts continue to challenge business travel’s recovery especially for international travel

New variant developments, government restrictions, and international policy inconsistencies are currently hindering a more accelerated return for global business travel. However, the industry continues to reflect progress and optimism in its long-view expectations for 2022, according to the latest poll from Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

‚ÄúHere at the start of a new year, the business travel industry and business travellers continue to face a dynamically changing landscape due to Omicron. One comment received from a poll respondent readily sums it up: ‚ÄėUncertainty is a huge wet blanket on [business] travel,‚Äô‚ÄĚ said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA.

‚ÄúDespite the wave of Omicron and the ripple of challenges it has created, there are positive signs, and industry professionals continue to be optimistic for the long-term outlook of global business travel.‚ÄĚ

Ongoing uncertainty, government restrictions and variant impacts continue to challenge business travel’s recovery especially for international travel

This poll is the 25th in GBTA’s Covid-19 Recovery series tracking the pulse of global travel buyers, supplier members and other stakeholders.

Here are some of the highlights from the January poll:

Optimism for the longhaul. Three in four travel managers expect business travel volume at their company will be much (17%) or somewhat (58%) higher in 2022 than it was in 2021. Another one in 10 (12%) expect business travel to remain about the same as 2021, but few (5%) expect it to be lower.

Among travel suppliers and TMCs, three in four expect their company’s revenue in 2022 from business travel to be much (25%) or somewhat (51%) higher compared to 2021. An additional one in ten (13%) suppliers and TMCs expect company revenue to remain about the same as 2021.

Company travel cancellation decreases. Poll results show a decline in the percentage of companies who continue to suspend or cancel business travel. Sixty-eight per cent of GBTA member companies have not yet opened international travel, compared to 79% in the October 2021 GBTA poll, and 29% have not opened domestic business travel versus 38% in October. Less than four in 10 (38% versus 48% in October) of respondents report their company has suspended or cancelled all or most business travel regardless of location.

Current business impacts. Six in ten (60%) suppliers/TMCs report their bookings from corporate clients decreased from the month prior. One in five (21%) characterise their bookings from corporate customers as having increased, but another one in five (19%) report their bookings remained the same. A majority of suppliers and TMCs surveyed are concerned about the impact of Omicron on their company’s revenue.

Seven in 10 respondents report Omicron will likely have a ‚Äúvery negative‚ÄĚ (32%) or ‚Äúmoderately negative‚ÄĚ (38%) impact on their company‚Äôs revenue derived from business travel. An additional one in four individuals feel Omicron will have either a ‚Äúslightly negative‚ÄĚ (20%) or no impact (3%) on business revenue.

Comparing variants. When asked to compare Omicron and Delta variant concerns, respondents were more positive but still divided. Two in five people report they are either less worried (43%) about Omicron compared to Delta or are equally concerned (45%). Only one in 10 (13%) say they are more worried about Omicron versus Delta.

Company guidance largely unchanged. Relatively few companies have introduced new travel restrictions due to the Omicron variant. Only one in four (27%) travel managers/procurement officers report their company has introduced new travel restrictions or requirements, whereas two-thirds (67%) report their company has not. More than half (52%) reported their company is unlikely to do so.

Biggest barriers. When asked to name the single greatest barrier to business travel, 43% of survey respondents cited government policies that restrict travel or make it difficult (such as entry restrictions or mandatory quarantines).

‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč‚ÄčOther business travel barriers included company policies restricting employees from travelling (24%), employee unwillingness/reluctance to travel (9%), offices not being fully open (9%), and travel budget freeze/cost savings (6%).

Hurdles continue for international travel. When asked to name barriers specifically to international business travel, respondents said policy uncertainty (72%), strict requirements on international visitors (69%), policy inconsistencies across different countries (64%), and required documentation and paperwork (45%).

Getting back out there. Despite Omicron, most travel managers feel employees are willing to travel. Two in three (64%) feel their employees are ‚Äúwilling‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúvery willing‚ÄĚ to travel for business in the current environment. A majority of seven in ten (72%) GBTA members and stakeholders report they would definitely or probably would travel for business.

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