A majority of U.S. corporate travel buyers expect their company’s business travel to ramp up and return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023. Despite concerns about inflation and rising prices, only one in five travel managers say their companies have begun to limit business travel. Since the onset of the pandemic, however, demands on travel managers’ time and priorities have grown, including addressing traveler needs, conducting data analysis, and the increasing challenge to balance cost savings with the business traveler experience.
This is according to a new report – “How Travel Managers Will Succeed in 2023” – from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and Spotnana, which provides modern infrastructure for the travel industry. The report is based on survey responses from 151 U.S.-based corporate travel buyers and addresses key questions, including when travel managers expect business travel to return to pre-pandemic levels, current and new priorities in their roles, and the travel program metrics they are now tracking.
“We wanted to look to those on the front lines who have been navigating all the changes happening in business travel for their expert insights and outlook on what might lie ahead,” said Johnny Thorsen, VP Partnerships, Spotnana. “Tapping into the experiences and perspectives of travel managers provides valuable knowledge that can empower all stakeholders to optimize their business travel programs.”
Here are some key highlights from the report:
Recovery Continues on Track
Travel managers largely expect most types of business travel will reach pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, including domestic business travel (74%), external meetings (77%), conference/group travel (76%) and internal meetings (69%).
One in 10 travel managers, however, say they do not expect business travel volumes to return until 2025 or later, citing inflation and rising prices as the top concerns, followed by travel disruptions and a potential recession. Few think business travel will never return to pre-pandemic levels, underscoring its importance for companies regardless of travel type.
Business Travel Goes on as Planned
Most companies (64%) say they are unlikely to limit business travel, although many are taking a wait-and-see approach and not seriously considering limiting business travel (36%). Only one in five travel managers say their company (19%) is already implementing a plan to limit business travel.
Balancing Cost and Traveler Priorities
Both travel managers (54%) and senior leadership (65%) are prioritizing cost savings, but travel managers rank traveler experience higher (51%) than executives (42%), making it more challenging to obtain buy-in to focus beyond costs. The study highlights the increased importance of addressing travel experience metrics, especially as business traveler preferences continue to evolve.
A Day in the Life of a Travel Manager Now
When asked which tasks they dedicate more time to now compared to before the pandemic, travel managers most frequently cite traveler communications / answering questions (72%) and overseeing their travel management company (TMC) relationship (59%). They also spend more time on data analysis (52%) and risk management / traveler tracking (42%). Few report they spend less time on key travel program components, demonstrating the growing complexity of managed travel programs.
Benefits from Collaboration and Metrics
Travel managers must collaborate with several stakeholders, the most cited being finance / accounting (69%), senior leadership/C-suite (49%), and risk management/ security (44%). Only three in five (59%), however, regularly share travel-related performance metrics with senior leadership, revealing an opportunity for more regular reporting to demonstrate the value of a managed travel program and travel managers.
Three in five travel managers (62%) say cost-focused metrics are the most important measures they will use to evaluate their program’s success in 2023. However, a notable number (32%) say travel experience-focused metrics will be the single most important measure they will use to gauge success.
Opportunities for Partners
Asked about their top TMC pain points, travel managers most commonly said agents / assistance (48%), data analysis / reporting / dashboarding (37%), and the ability of their TMC to deliver a “customized” travel program (33%). Concerning their primary OBT, travel managers identify end-user/traveler experience (49%), the ability to manage changes or cancellations (47%), and innovation (41%) as key pain points.