For Business Travel, a ‘Return to Normal’ Will Never Happen

Roughly 2 in 5 pre-pandemic business travelers report they’ll never travel for work again, writes travel and hospitality analyst Lindsey Roeschke, so brands must plan for decreased volume in 2022 and beyond

Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Sara Wickersham

Business travel’s rebound has lagged behind that of leisure travel throughout the pandemic, but with companies rethinking their long-term strategies, it appears that work travel may never come back completely. For travel brands, it will be crucial to adapt to business travelers’ new approaches and guidelines to make up for lost volume.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the entire travel industry, but business travel has suffered much more than leisure travel. With many corporate offices still closed and work shifting to virtual settings — not to mention the money saved due to slashed travel budgets — many executives are hesitant to send their employees out on the company dime as they did before the pandemic.

Predictions of a “return to normal” in the business travel space have varied, with some industry insiders forecasting a return to 100 percent of prior volume, albeit on an extended timeline compared with the leisure sector. Morning Consult data suggests this will not be the case.

An October 2021 survey found that 39 percent of business travelers — defined as those who traveled for business at least three times a year before the pandemic — predict that they will never travel for work again. By comparison, only 7 percent of those who traveled as frequently for leisure said the same.

4 in 10 Business Travelers Predict They’ll Never Travel for Work Again

Travelers who took three or more trips in a typical year project when they will next travel

Poll conducted Oct. 22-24, 2021, among 2,200 U.S. adults, with a margin of error of +/-2%. Totals may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

The trips that do happen will likely center around external engagements rather than internal meetings, be shorter in duration and, at least in the near term, involve personal vehicles more than shared transport like planes.

Reduced business travel volume will be a challenge for all travel brands as the industry recovers, especially given that those traveling for business tend to spend much more per trip than leisure travelers. In 2022 and beyond, brands will need to do more than adjust forecasts to account for this change — they will need to rethink how they connect with business travelers altogether.

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