In 2022, companies are reconsidering their answers to the question: What is essential travel? This shift could push us closer to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.
We all know the story by now: the COVID-19 pandemic blanketed the world more than two years ago, and businesses quickly shut down their travel programs, along with many of their other initiatives.
We’ve come a long way since the spring of 2020, which has prompted many businesses to start asking this question once more: What is essential travel?
When the pandemic first started, essential travel was a strictly controlled concept that greatly limited the number of people who could hit the road for work, as well as the reasons why they could travel.
Now, things are different. Here’s a look at how corporate travel changed when the pandemic first arrived, plus statistics on how companies are altering their definitions of essential travel for 2022 and beyond.
The Corporate Travel Crash of 2020
Corporate travel budgets declined by an astonishing 90% in the early 2020. This was a natural result of the pandemic and how it changed day-to-day life in America. And, as we learned more about how the pandemic would affect businesses and their travel programs, a few things became clear.
Corporate travel would return at a slower pace than leisure travel.
International travel would return at a slower pace than domestic travel.
Vaccines became available in early 2021, and widely available in late 2021. This development accelerated the return to business travel. Now, as we reach the midpoint of 2022, the environment continues to change — further accelerating the return to business travel.
Where Things Stand in 2022
You’ve likely noticed that conferences and events are returning to the corporate calendar, necessitating a return to business travel. Many companies, even corporate giants like Google, are asking team members to return to their offices. And the rationale behind the essential travel rules that were once in place are becoming less and less relevant.
During the worst months of the pandemic, businesses used essential-only travel guidelines to survive. Sales people still needed to make sales calls. Account executives still needed to service important clients. And many companies with offices spread around the country or world still needed their team members to gather for collaboration.
Now, as the pandemic subsides, leaders still see the value in face-to-face interactions. Perhaps business travel will be forever changed because of what we’ve experienced over the past two years, but signs indicate that business travel is returning in full force.
Returning to Travel with a New Focus
There are two key reasons why corporate travel is making a comeback that will continue as we push toward reaching 2019 levels. First, competition requires business travel. If you’re not out on the road fighting for new deals and servicing your existing clients, your competitors will be. Second, growth requires business travel. Leaders have discovered that they cannot scale effectively without the value that business travel provides.
As business travel returns in full force in 2022, expect it to change in two ways. There will be a greater focus on the bottom line as a rationale for business travel moving forward. And there will also be a greater emphasis on the sustainability of business travel programs.
A Study Indicates a Full Return
A Deloitte study from August 2021 provides insight into how business travel is returning and at what pace. The survey found that there are five reasons why corporations are more willing to ask their team members to travel now. Those reasons are:
- Sustained low infection rates.
- The general population vaccination percentage.
- Client offices reopening.
- The easing of quarantine requirements.
- Companies’ own offices reopening.
We still have not reached pre-pandemic levels of business travel. This is because of some ongoing constraints, including:
- Travel restrictions and requirements.
- Employee unwillingness to travel.
- Client unwillingness to interact in-person.
- Delayed or online conferences and exhibitions.
- Increased travel prices.
Expect these constraints to continue to diminish in the back half of 2022. The Deloitte study found that 54% of all companies expect to reach 100% of 2019‘s travel spend by the end of 2022. And another 34% of all companies expect to reach 50–74% of 2019’s travel spend by the fourth quarter.
As the vast majority of businesses return to travel as usual, the driving forces mentioned above (competition and growth) will motivate any hold-out organizations to also return to travel as usual.
Get Support as You Return to Travel
As the business travel environment continues to shift and change, sometimes without warning, it’s more important now than ever that you have in place strategic partners that can help you maximize your travel spend.
The JTB Business Travel team has walked alongside our corporate clients throughout the pandemic, providing the recommendations, guidance and solutions they need to survive and thrive.
As the impacts of the pandemic lessen, we are here to help companies large and small, no matter where their travel programs are right now. Contact us to learn more about our common sense approach to business travel.