When will business travel start to rebound? It’s one of the biggest current questions in travel management circles, and answers mostly are guesswork. A recent BCD Travel client survey pointed to meaningful resumption of client travel activity in the second half of this year.

Polled between April 6 and April 16, 40 percent of 125 travel managers said their organizations expected to start sending employees back on the road during the quarter ending in June. Slightly more (41 percent) indicated the third quarter and 8 percent said the fourth quarter. Seven percent of respondents indicated sometime during the first nine months of 2021. Five percent thought it would be later than that.

Trying to gauge when, or even if, business travel will return to pre-crisis levels is even harder. More than six in 10 of BCD Travel’s surveyed clients thought that would happen this year. Ten percent guessed it would not be before 2022. Three percent said “never.”

The number of respondents expecting more virtual meetings, conferences and events after the crisis subsides outnumbered those who anticipated fewer.

The Global Business Travel Association has been asking its members similar questions. Its most recently published poll results, based on an April 1-4 survey, found that 30 percent of almost 600 responding travel management and procurement pros expected “regular travel” to resume in two months. Another 17 percent indicated three months.

corporate travel recovery

Delta Air Lines president Glen Hauenstein during a Wednesday conference call with analysts said travel “may not continue in all its current forms.” He pointed to the impact of telecommuting and remote conferencing technologies. “That will change the nature of travel a bit,” he said.

“The path to recovery is uncertain and will likely be choppy,” added Delta CEO Ed Bastian. “While we all wish we could predict the pace of the recovery, the truth is a recovery will be dictated by our customers feeling safe — both physically and financially — to begin to travel at scale.”

For the 57 percent of BCD Travel’s survey respondents who said company employees continued essential travel during March, two-thirds said they began providing “specific travel advice.” The same number indicated they implemented pre-trip approvals. Another popular measure, enacted by half the survey sample, was tracking “all” traveling employees. Far fewer provided personal protective equipment to travelers (17 percent). Some adjusted credit card limits for disrupted travelers (7 percent) or offered additional services like airport lounge access (2 percent).

Some travel management priorities have changed; others haven’t. When BCD Travel in January polled about 80 of its clients, duty of care ranked as the top priority, tied with policy compliance, with an average rating of 4.5 on a five-point scale of importance. Environmentally sustainable travel ranked last (3.7).

Repeating the question in the April survey, BCD again found duty of care as the top priority, garnering a higher average score (4.7). No other area had a higher average score than before.

Payment and expense management, and savings and cost control, showed notable drops in priority (both down 0.7 points on the five-point scale). Environmentally sustainable travel slipped a bit more and again ranked last (2.9).

Meanwhile, nearly nine in 10 respondents said the size of their travel teams hadn’t changed, with the rest indicating they got smaller.

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