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Survey: Travel Willingness Slips, But Some Cause for Optimism

2021-09-23 GBTA Chart

While a new survey of travel managers and industry suppliers doesn’t show any particular increase in optimism about near-term business travel demand, a few other indicators and comments this week point to perhaps a stronger stretch of interest as U.S. Covid-19 case counts begin to decline. 

The number of travel managers in a September survey who consider their organizations’ employees willing to travel for business declined from August levels and now stands at the lowest level since April 2021. In the Sept. 7-12 survey of around 280 member travel buyers and procurement professionals conducted by the Global Business Travel Association, about 69 percent said their organizations’ employees were “very wiling” or “willing” to travel. That’s down from 72 percent in August and 77 percent in July.

Travel supplier respondents to the GBTA survey, meanwhile, aren’t exactly brimming with optimism either. About 38 percent of the approximately 160 suppliers surveyed said travel bookings had declined in the past month, compared with 31 percent in August and 3 percent in July. (GBTA for this month’s survey changed the wording of that question, and previously asked respondents how bookings had changed in the prior week.)

Still, the number of member travel supplier respondents who said their bookings have increased rose to 32 percent in September from 24 percent in August. And the late-summer U.S. delta-variant wave of Covid-19 that swept through the Southern states in particular appears to be on the wane for the past week or two, according to The New York Times’ database.

Those suppliers aren’t alone in detecting some increased business travel activity. Hyatt Hotels Corp. in a filing this week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission cited “growing momentum in business transient and group business” during September.

“While group cancellations have been elevated in August and September, new group bookings have remained strong,” according to Hyatt. “In addition, business transient bookings have accelerated materially in September as compared to August 2021.”

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in a discussion this week at Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia Conference said that “we actually have seen a nice bump in business travel happening,” without offering specifics. Khosrowshahi’s remarks came one day after the ride-hailing giant reported overall third-quarter revenue trends that exceeded projections. 

And Airlines Reporting Corp. this week reported that air sales at U.S. corporate-focused travel agencies for the week ending Sept. 19 were 61.7 percent lower than the commensurate week in 2019, better than the 62.9 drop the week before and the lowest comparative decline since the beginning of August. 

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