Global ‘State of the Market’ Study Reveals Slow but Steady Rebound of Corporate Travel

State of the Market

Fifty percent of organisations have begun travelling again, but with stipulations, according to the third phase of a global ‘State of the Market’ survey by Flight Centre Travel Group’s corporate arm. 

The third stage consisted of one-to-one in-depth interviews in August 2020 with 250 of FCM Corporate Travellers multinational large-scale clients, plus Corporate Traveller SME customers globally, representing over 60 countries. The workshops examined a new path forward for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, as corporate travel resumes amid new safety and hygiene requirements and protocols. It follows on from the results of two State of the Market surveys released in May and June, surveying over 2,300 business travel managers, bookers and travellers in EMEA, Asia, the Americas, India, Australia and New Zealand, to gauge their sentiments on business travel during the COVID-19 crisis. 

State of the Market Report

While 50% of respondents said they have employees already travelling or booking reservations to travel in the near future, resuming travel will be different for everyone. The combined results of the State of the Market research (April to August 2020) shows that over 90% of businesses indicated that they planned to travel domestically and short haul international flights, within three months of governments re-opening borders and lifting restrictions such as quarantine. Yet the number of trips taken will likely be lower, as only 26% of businesses are planning to return to their pre-COVID-19 levels for domestic travel during 2021. The remaining 74% of businesses predict reduced domestic travel for the immediate year ahead. Pre-COVID the average number of business trips per traveller was 6-8 per year; this number is likely to fall between 3 and 4 trips per person, per year until 2023.

Clients still have long-haul travel plans on hold indefinitely, as they assess the balance between need and safety. In particular, national businesses in USA, Australia, China and New Zealand were less likely to have long-haul international plans for 2021, indicating only domestic and short-haul international travel will be planned for next year. 29% of respondents from China said they won't be travelling long haul, while 22% of respondents in New Zealand, 16% in Australia and 7% in the USA indicated the same.

The below provides a snapshot of professionals currently travelling:

  • Industries who continued to travel or recommenced travel the fastest were Mining & Wholesale, with roughly 40% of respondents from those businesses saying they continued travelling throughout the global shutdown. 80% have resumed travel at this point.
  • Construction and food services follow closely behind with roughly 70% of respondents indicated that they’ve started travelling again.
  • Across all industries, the first people to travel will be/have been sales, client management and project workforce who are focused on business growth, customer retention and the resumption of projects. 19% of respondents agree that the least likely to travel in the near future were administration and internal support staff as they are not client facing. 

Nick Queale, General Manager Flight Centre Corporate said: “Engaging with our customers on the impact COVID-19 via this three phase State of the Market research project was vital in order to understand our customers sentiments and the best way we can support them during a period of rapid and continuing seismic change and uncertainty.  Even now, as pockets of the industry turn towards recovery, the business travel landscape continues to shift and evolve. In preparation for a return to some normality, businesses and suppliers are reframing their priorities, processes and procedures. It is clear that uncertainty will remain for some time, particularly while governments re-impose border restrictions or quarantine periods.  However, understanding how companies are resuming business travel and what factors are having the biggest impact on their priorities, will enable us to provide the best possible support going forwards.”

Furthermore, the State of the Market study revealed that the future of travel buying behaviour will be influenced by:

  • Airline, hotel, car/ground COVID-safety protocols (37% of respondents are reviewing their hotel suppliers to ensure they are COVID-safe and 25% of respondents rate Duty of Care their number one focus as travel resumes in their business).
  • Shortened purchase window (the average purchase window for domestic travel has dropped from 7-10 days (pre-COVID) to 3-4 days post-COVID).
  • Flexible fares.
  • Avoidance of overnight requirements.
  • Virtual meetings as a back-up.

In addition to focusing on budgets, traveller confidence and safety procedures, businesses large and small are re-evaluating their travel policies in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever before, a travel policy ensures businesses have set guidelines around traveller safety, budgets, required documentation and purpose for travel, while empowering employees to use careful judgement when booking and incurring travel expenses. 84% of businesses interviewed have active travel policies, either at a national or global level. During COVID-19, 40% of respondents who had existing policies introduced interim travel policies, providing more restrictive guidelines for travellers. Interim policies include varying definitions of indefinite travel bans, classifications for business-critical travel (where safe), new approval procedures, general guidelines for changed supplier services and also procedures for business meetings. 50% of customers are making further changes to their policy as travel resumes. 

Priorities of revised policies include: health & hygiene; pre-trip approval; business class travel approval; whether the business is essential; journey changes; adhering to COVID conduct; using preferred and COVID safe suppliers.

The full State of the Market report with comprehensive analysis of the survey results and market overview is available to download here

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