Global business travel picks up, predicted to make a full recovery by 2024

As the world opens up and economic recovery gains pace, corporate travel is likely to take wings soon. The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) — the world’s largest business travel and meetings trade association in Washington DC— in its annual outlook said despite recovery setbacks in 2021, a year-over-year surge of 38% is expected in 2022 as recovery and pent-up demand rise, bringing global business travel spending back to over $1 trillion. Recovery will continue into 2023, with global spending rising 23% year-over-year as even more international and group travel comes back. By 2024, global business travel is forecast to have made a full recovery, ending the year at $1.48 trillion, above the 2019 pre-pandemic spends of $1.4 trillion.

As per the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), Indian carriers have increased their weekly flights by 10.1% to 25,309 this summer, compared to 22,980 last year. IndiGo has increased its domestic flights by 10.4% to 11,130 weekly services for summer 2022 as compared to 10,084 weekly services in the corresponding period last year. The Tata Group-run AirAsia India will operate 1,601 weekly domestic services — a 16% jump — in summer 2022.

A definitive uptick from corporate travel has doubled month-on-month since January 2022. “A surge in positive corporate sentiment should make us close March at 80% of 2019 levels. Our key corporate sectors like IT, consultancy/advisory firms, banking & finance, global accounts, and also SMEs are fuelling demand for international and domestic travel. Destinations displaying strong demand include the US, Canada and the UK; and from a domestic perspective Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata. Mumbai is witnessing the fastest recovery for business travel across key hubs,” said Indiver Rastogi, president & group head – global business travel – Thomas Cook (India) & SOTC.

As corporates are keen to utilise their budgets, there’s a robust pipeline of group sizes ranging from 50-600 with budgets as high as over Rs 4 lakh per person for premium groups, showing a clear appetite for spends. “Sporting events are of significant importance and have been driving travel intent. We have a healthy query pipeline for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar and T20 World Cup in Australia,” added Meera Charnalia — senior VP & head — MICE, Thomas Cook India.

SOTC Travel has received confirmations for multiple corporate groups, travelling April onward for both domestic and international short and long haul destinations. “Multiple groups of a range of sizes are lined up from sectors such as pharma, insurance, cement, textile, FMCG, paint, automobile, banking, finance, agriculture for short haul destinations like Dubai and Abu Dhabi and Australia and Europe in the long haul,” said SD Nandakumar, president & country head, B2B & foreign exchange, SOTC Travel.

The hospitality segment is also feeling the change. Puneet Chhatwal, CEO and MD of Indian Hotels Company, India’s largest hospitality brand that operates Taj chain of hotels, told FE in an interview recently that government delegations with heads of states have led the start of business travel.

Added Puneet Dhawan, senior VP operations — India and South Asia — for Accor India, “Corporate travel demand has seen a multifold increase in the past 45 days, and we are witnessing an increased volume of international travellers from MNCs coming back to India for events and meetings. Overall MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) leads are seeing a positive rise with organisations planning their events that have been on hold for the past two years.”

Destination specific events will also see a strong traction with return to in-person conferences this year. India continues to be in the top five key source markets for destinations like Ras Al Khaimah, one of the seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates. “With the new normal between hybrid and in-person events, we have launched offers for groups and associations and strategic partnerships with events management agencies and wedding planners,” said Iyad Rasbey, executive director, destination tourism development & MICE, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority.

Factors like safety and flexibility will also remain a top priority. Private jets are safe for reasons like minimum touch points, aircraft seating and customised services. Industrialists’ inclination towards using private jets during the last few months has increased. “Companies who couldn’t travel during the lockdown have now started using private jets. We have been receiving charter queries from corporate houses in India but they don’t intend to make bookings for more than a week due to uncertainty,” says Santosh Sharma, co-founder and CEO, Foresee Aviation, a professional private jet and helicopter aggregator, who has been receiving over 18-20 charter queries on an average per day for the past two months, of which 50 % are for business trips.

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