Business Travel Roars Back as Industry Prepares for the GBTA Convention

In a powerful resurgence, the global business travel industry is surging ahead in 2024, poised to exceed pre-pandemic levels with a forecasted spending of $1.5 trillion. This rebound comes as a breath of fresh air after the stifling effects of the pandemic, as revealed by the latest insights from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

The upcoming annual GBTA Convention 2024, set to take place in Atlanta from July 22-24, brings together thousands of business travel professionals worldwide to converge to shape the future of corporate travel, reflecting the industry’s optimistic outlook and hunger for face-to-face interactions.

Atlanta, Georgia / Photo: ibuki Tsubo / Unsplash

This year’s event boasts an impressive agenda and lineup of keynote speakers, including Dan Ariely, a renowned behavioral economist, bestselling author, speaker, and professor; Carla Harris, an internationally acclaimed public speaker and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley; and Dr. Bertrand Piccard, the visionary initiator and chairman of the Solar Impulse Foundation. Along with the chance to hear from these inspiring leaders, you’ll also have ample opportunities to network, connect, and grow.

According to the GBTA Business Travel Index Outlook (BTI), the industry is experiencing a robust recovery. GBTA surveyed 4,700 business travelers across 22 countries, with 82 percent expressing that business travel significantly contributes to achieving their business goals. This sentiment is mirrored by travel industry insiders, with 67 percent of travel buyers anticipating increased or steady travel budgets for 2024.

Despite challenges such as rising costs and economic uncertainties, businesses recognize in-person engagements’ unique value. “The vital role of face-to-face connection and engagement remains undeniable for both companies and business travelers,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO of GBTA.

Factors Shaping the Future

Looking ahead, several factors could reshape the landscape of corporate travel. Geopolitical tensions, regional inflation, and financial conditions loom as potential risks. Additionally, evolving work patterns, sustainability concerns, and the rise of ‘bleisure’ (business + leisure) travel are transforming how professionals approach corporate trips.

Photo: Courtesy of Artem Zhukov / Unsplash

GBTA’s data reveals a significant shift towards bleisure, with 62 percent of business travelers now more inclined to combine work trips with personal time, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Industry Leaders Share Optimism

Leaders in the airline industry also echo this optimism. Andrew Nocella, Chief Commercial Officer of United Airlines, highlighted a noticeable uptick in domestic business traffic and expressed bullish sentiments towards the Asian market’s recovery earlier this year.

“Domestic demand remains strong with increases in business traffic volumes year over year,” Nocella stated during United’s January earnings call. “We’ve all sat on calls and predicted the recovery of business traffic more times than I can count over the last few years. But as we started January in the new budget season, for all of our big corporate clients, we did notice a significant step up.”

Photo: Courtesy of United Airlines

“I hesitate to say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s fixed,’ because it’s still well behind where it should be relative to GDP growth, but at least for the first two weeks of January, we’ve gotten off to a really strong start, and it gives us an increase in signs that this is going to be, I think, a very good year,” he added.

Likewise, Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, reported a strong resurgence in business travel in the airline’s latest earnings call, noting robust domestic and international demand. Bastian emphasized the pivotal role of business travel in supporting overall travel demand and driving profitability for airlines.

“We have seen some real strong demand,” Bastian told Yahoo Finance. “That momentum has continued internationally. It’s continued domestically. Year to date, we’ve seen the 11 highest sales days in our company’s history. That’s a strong predictor that the spring and summer season is going to be quite healthy on the travel side.”

“We also see business travel picking up again,” he said on the results. “That’s the reason we were able to generate the profit in the first quarter. … I think that higher level of business demand is very healthy in terms of filling in short-term travel gaps that we might have in the schedule.”

Photo: Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

Delta released a statement announcing that “Managed corporate sales grew 14 percent year-over-year, led by the return of large corporate accounts, particularly in the Technology, Consumer Services, and Financial Services sectors.”

“Recent corporate survey results indicate that 90 percent” of companies expect their travel volumes to increase or stay the same in the June quarter and beyond.”

The Revival of Business Travel

As the business travel industry returns to life, fueled by pent-up demand and renewed optimism, the stage is set for a dynamic return to face-to-face engagements and global business interactions.

With the GBTA Convention on the horizon and key industry players reporting encouraging trends, 2024 promises to be a crucial year for business travel, signaling a resilient comeback for this essential sector of the global economy.

For more information on the association, visit www.gbta.org. And for more information about this year’s GBTA Convention in Atlanta, visit convention.gbta.org.

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