Corporate travel spending is tracking toward full recovery to 2019 levels by 2024 or 2025, but higher costs and climate concerns will keep trip volumes smaller than pre-pandemic levels in "real terms," according to a Deloitte study weighing responses from 334 corporate travel managers.
The study — conducted from Feb. 7-23 and consisting of 106 United States travel managers and 228 European travel managers, divided about evenly between Spain, Germany, France and the United Kingdom — showed that spending volume should reach about 57% of 2019 levels in the first half of this year and increase to about 75% by the end of the year.
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The growth, however, is coming amid "an environment of higher airfares and room rates," which means the actual number of trips are lagging. A full recovery in business travel spending appears possible by the end of 2024, but the corporate travel market would remain about 10% to 20% below pre-pandemic levels accounting for inflation, according to the report.
Overall recovery trajectories are similar for both U.S. and European travel managers, although long-haul international trips are recovering more quickly among U.S. companies, according to the survey. In the U.S., travel managers said international travel would account for about a third of 2023 spending overall, which is similar to the share in 2019. In Europe, travel managers expect 28% of spending to be on travel outside of Europe, compared with 34% in 2019.
Suppliers focused on long-term relationships
While travel buyers are facing a tougher negotiating environment with suppliers, most buyers said they are satisfied with their results, though less so in Europe, according to the report. Among U.S. travel managers, 63% said their airline pricing was favorable, and 54% of European travel managers said the same. The responses were similar for hotel agreements, according to Deloitte.
"In both regions, travel buyers generally believe that suppliers are taking a long-term view of their relationships versus pressing their advantage in the moment," the report said.
Most buyers also said they are not limiting trip frequencies due to higher cost and instead are asking travelers to book cheaper flights and hotels, according to Deloitte.
Sustainability initiatives to redefine ‘recovery’
More than 40% of buyers said they are working to reduce their environment impact via corporate travel policy, though those efforts will not curb travel this year. About one-seventh of U.S. travel managers and one-fifth of European travel managers said their travel programs will see sustainability-related reductions in 2023. Larger percentages are planning for longer-term reductions, however, with about a third of U.S. travel managers and 40% of European travel mangers saying travel per employee will have to decrease by 20% or more by 2030 to meet their sustainability targets.
*This article originally appeared in Business Travel News.