Industries in Depth

Business travellers are ready to take off again - if certain conditions are met - says survey

An airplane taking off.

The extent to which business travel will make a comeback may be fairly modest. Image: Unsplash/Gary Lopater

Sean Fleming
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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  • The majority of global business travellers are willing to resume travelling for work.
  • But only if certain conditions are met, according to a new survey.
  • Business travellers want a greater say in how they travel and where they stay, post-pandemic.
  • A sizeable number say that they will quit their jobs if travel flexibility is not offered by their employers.

The majority of people whose jobs involve business travel are itching to get back out there. But only if their employers go the extra mile and offer plenty of travel flexibility.

Research carried out for the business software company SAP, found that 96% of business travellers say they are “willing to travel for business over the next 12 months”. Almost two-thirds (65%) say they are “very willing”.

Their eagerness to get back to globe-trotting is, for the most part, down to two reasons. The first is the harm being done to business relationships by not travelling. SAP found that 80% fear their professional lives will suffer, 38% are concerned they’ll experience a drop in earnings, while 33% worry their progress on the career path will suffer if they don’t increase their business travel this year.

Travel guidelines from managers.
Travel guidelines from managers. Image: SAP Concur

Business or pleasure?

The second reason is more personal. After a long period of restricted travel opportunities, 89% of people surveyed said they intend to mix business with pleasure by tacking untaken vacation days on to work trips. For 41%, travel offers a welcome change from everyday life, while 11% said their partner simply wants them out of the house.

Expectations of quality, flexibility and safety are soaring, the SAP survey says. When asked about additional benefits they expect from their employers, 52% said they want to choose direct flights, 41% said they want to stay in four or five star accommodation. A similar number (39%) want to fly business or first class, too.

Have some business travellers overstayed their welcome?
Have some business travellers overstayed their welcome? Image: SAP Concur

Of course, health and safety matters ranked highly as well, with 89% saying the freedom to make their own arrangements will enable them to better protect themselves from COVID-19.

This desire for flexibility is a top priority for younger people, with 59% of Generation-Z business travellers saying they’d rather have a “crying toddler in the seat behind them than have no control over when and where they travel for work”.

Have you read?
Improvements in the COVID-19 situation.
Improvements in the COVID-19 situation. Image: Deloitte Insights

Cleared for take-off

The extent to which business travel will make a comeback may be fairly modest, though. Another survey, from Deloitte, says that even though it is on the rise in the second half of 2021, business travel will stay significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels. “Total spend in Q4 2021 is projected to reach somewhere between 25%-35% of 2019 levels”, Deloitte says, adding that even by the end of the year, one-third of companies expect their spending on business travel will be lower than 25% of 2019 levels.

When assessing the need to reignite travel, there are some particular indicators businesses are tracking, Deloitte says. Top of that list are vaccination and infection rates. Others include the relaxation of pandemic-related restrictions, and the reopening of offices.

Even after having taken those considerations into account, the SAP survey warns businesses that some of their employees will consider leaving if they feel excluded from travel plans, or that their welfare is at risk.

Almost half (48%) of young employees will start looking for a new job, which averages out at 20% for the whole workforce. Meanwhile, around one-third (31%) would request that they travel less frequently if their company does not implement policies or measures to help protect their health and safety.

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