The return of business travel is hitting a few speed bumps, with new signs this week indicating concerns over the lingering Covid-19 pandemic are pushing businesses and travelers to reassess their plans to get back on the road.
Released today, the latest edition of the Global Business Travel Association’s monthly global survey of travel professionals, aimed at assessing the industry’s pandemic recovery, found significantly reduced momentum for the return of travel from short term business. The current iteration of the survey, conducted between August 9 and 19, collected responses from 678 travel buyers and suppliers in the United States and Canada, Europe and Latin America.
The survey found that only 40 percent of companies that had ceased domestic travel planned to resume travel within the country within the next one to three months, down 36 percent from the previous survey, conducted a month earlier. early. Enthusiasm for international travel was also on the decline, with just 18% of companies that had suspended cross-border travel planning to resume such travel, down exactly 33% from last month’s survey.
Cross-border travel lag is not just a health issue
Not only are domestic travel plans crumbling as the delta variant takes hold, the long wait for cross-border traffic – which has yet to experience a significant return – could lengthen further. Neither the virus nor the variant is the only obstacle.
“Fragmented rules and a lack of mutual agreements continue to restrict travel, with travel restrictions the second biggest barrier to travel for 55% of those polled in a GlobalData survey,” said Gus Gardner, associate travel analyst and the tourism research firm, whose survey interviewed all types of travelers, not just business.
“Travelers were left confused as to how to provide their vaccination status with different rules for different destinations. For some destinations, travelers have to go through several steps to prove their status, and if they are traveling to many countries, the process often differs. Even though it appears that restrictions have eased, the complexity of proving vaccination will continue to be a barrier. “
Gardner went on to call proof of vaccination an “afterthought” of vaccine deployment, and the lack of digitized records in some countries – including the United States – will continue to make proof of vaccine status difficult. While options are available, like the International Air Travel Association’s travel pass and others, adoption has been low and government integration is limited.
“Unless action is taken quickly, this could potentially suppress international demand, as the rules could be too difficult to understand and the recovery of destinations could stagnate as a result,” Gardner said.
The GBTA study also provided gloomy information from suppliers, with 31% of those surveyed working for an airline, hotel or ground transportation company reporting that bookings from corporate clients had declined in the past week, while only 24% saw an increase in the number of businesses. sales over this period. This was a sharp reversal from the previous survey, in which just 3% of suppliers had fewer corporate bookings and 70% reported an increase.
New data from Airlines Reporting Corp. confirm the recent slowdown in corporate reservations. The CRA reported that corporate airline ticket volumes have declined significantly from 2019 levels in recent weeks. The seven-day period ending August 22 saw volume decline 63.5% from the same period two years ago, continuing weaker sales from the previous week, during which volume was down 62.4% from 2019. These numbers were a sharp drop from year-end. July and early August, during which volumes fell only 55.3% on average compared to 2019.
Employee enthusiasm for the return to travel is also on a downward trajectory, according to the latest GBTA study, in which 10 percent of travel managers surveyed felt that employees at their company as a whole were generally unwilling. to travel. In the previous GBTA survey, only 4% of managers reported such an overall feeling from their employees.
Amid Covid concerns, the rise of the delta variant of the virus – which has been shown to be carried by some fully vaccinated people – has been of particular concern for the travel ecosystem as a whole. In the GBTA survey, 78 percent of all respondents were concerned or very concerned about the potential effects of the delta variant – and the possibility of other variants – on business travel safety. Meanwhile, 78 percent were concerned or very concerned about the effect of variants on industry employment and 85 percent feared the potential effects of variants on supplier revenues.
In public comments Wednesday, American Airlines chief revenue officer Vasu Raja warned that the delta variant was hampering the carrier’s revenue in August and forecasting a moderate recovery in business travel in the coming months.
“It has been, and we expect it to continue to be, a very choppy recovery,” Raja said. “We expect there will be a slower recovery in business demand than what we have seen,” he added.
American’s warning about the revenue constraints stemming from the delta variant follows similar advisories recently issued by Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines.