About 35 percent of U.S. businesses are currently engaged in any business-related travel, said U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow during a Tuesday press conference that focused on the steps needed to ignite business travel and meetings and events.
Additionally, business travel won’t fully recover to 2019 levels of either spend or number of trips until 2024, according to a new projection from Tourism Economics, which released a new report in conjunction with U.S. Travel.
The report shows that U.S. domestic business travel spend in 2020 totaled $88 billion, 67 percent lower than the $270 billion recorded in 2019, according to the report. The group portion of that figure for 2020 was $28 billion versus $113 billion in 2019, a 75 percent decline.
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The total number of domestic business travel trips fell from 464 million in 2019 to 181 million in 2020, according to the report.
Industry Leaders Urge Transatlantic Effort to Restart Travel
Addressing United Kingdom lawmakers, business travel advocates from both sides of the Atlantic on Tuesday stressed the industry’s continued struggles amid the Covid-19 pandemic and called for international cooperation on additional measures to aid the sector’s recovery.
Speaking at a meeting of the U.K.’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Business Travel, Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association estimated the U.K.’s business travel sector currently is operating at less than 10 percent of pre-pandemic levels, with “no end to this crisis in sight.”
“It is not an exaggeration to say that as a sector, we are still in lockdown,” Wratten said.
Suzanne Neufang, CEO of the U.S.-based Global Business Travel Association, called for the opening of a travel corridor between the U.S. and U.K. to aid the latter nation’s recovery.
Wratten and Neufang both called for inter-governmental cooperation between the two nations to help re-establish trade and corporate travel activity between them.
Earlier this month ahead of a G7 Summit, U.S. and U.K. leaders agreed to establish a working group of experts to develop recommendations for restarting international travel—a move cheered by business travel industry advocates who have been pushing for inter-governmental cooperation to restore travel activity amid dramatic recent improvement in the Covid-19 situation in both countries.
Formed in September 2020 to help shepherd the U.K. business travel industry through the Covid-19 pandemic, the APPG is comprised up of MPs from across the political spectrum with an interest in business travel.
— Adam Perrotta
“The [Tourism Economics] analysis shows that business travel could be bleak if we don’t do something immediately,” Dow said. “Business travel was such a powerful section of our travel and U.S. economy and a major driver of our total economy. … It contributed $791 billion to the economy in 2019 and was responsible for 5 million jobs. … We need to look at how we can get it going faster. … Domestic leisure travel is really doing well, but it’s the business travel, group and meetings and events that is so important.”
Further, after the Great Recession of 2008-09, “companies that maintained their levels of business travel during that downturn outperformed companies that cut back on business travel,” said Tourism Economics president Adam Sacks. “There is clearly a competitive advantage to continue to meet face-to-face.”
To try to boost the pace of business travel recovery, Dow said that USTA will launch a “Let’s Meet There” marketing campaign to communicate the difference between professionally managed meeting and events and large gatherings.
Dow, however, noted a problem. “We have a patchwork of reopening protocols from state to state and city to city,” he said. “Business leaders really don’t know what to expect when they go to a different destination. We need to get a consistent look around the U.S. We also have some very outdated attendance limitations.”
USTA called on the adoption of federal guidance that is clear and consistent—”and that recognizes that health and safety measures can be more readily implemented at professional meetings and events than at other forms of large gatherings.”
Ohio State University Meeting Recommendations
Ohio State University released in conjunction with the USTA press conference a white paper created by scientists that provides “scientific-based evidence for conducting safe and healthy professional meetings and events.”
The review cites guidance from sources including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Journal of the American Medical Association Network and Health Affairs. It examined the mitigation and risk factors associated with mask wearing, physical distancing, ventilation, meal distribution and surface cleaning.
The paper’s findings include recommendations that masks be required for all unvaccinated individuals, physical distancing if an event includes unvaccinated attendees, and occupancy caps based on a venue’s ventilation system and airflow rate standards.
Enforcing such recommended protocols could pose a challenge, especially when certain states, including Florida and Texas, have passed laws that forbid businesses from asking for proof of vaccination from customers.