Few if any areas of the hospitality industry have been left unscathed since the rise of COVID-19, but perhaps none have been affected as much as those that rely on business travel to keep their businesses out of the red. From individual work-related trips to the hosting of meetings and largescale conferences, hotels that previously could count on a steady inflow of business travelers saw such revenue sources dry up almost overnight due to global travel restrictions.
While it has undoubtedly been a long and hard road for such hotel businesses, the easing of some restrictions alongside the availability of vaccines has provided a more realistic sense of hope that the worst is now behind us.
However, what understandably remains are questions on when and in what form business travel will ultimately return. Will the lifting of international travel restrictions automatically translate into a complete revival of business travel or will travelers continue to shy away from all but essential trips? Will business travel look the same as it did before or will hoteliers need to adapt to new approaches that address new behaviors?
Read on to see what both industry experts and business travelers themselves have to say about what the future may bring and how soon we can expect it to finally arrive.
Gauging Current Business Traveler Sentiment
First and foremost of importance is understanding how business travelers see their trip itineraries either expanding or remaining stagnant based on pandemic developments. Unsurprisingly at the onset of the health crisis, not only did hoteliers have to grapple with travel restrictions but also a hesitancy among business travelers who were reluctant to place themselves at greater risk. Accompanying an 86.5 percent decline in air travel was a 95 to 98 percent drop in corporations purchasing travel itineraries.
Yet now, more recent statistics appear to paint a far more positive picture in hotel markets around the world. Within the United States for example, domestic business travel shot up to a 47 percent recovery during January 2021. China has likewise experienced a significant turnaround with spending on meetings and events bringing in $110 billion. Even within hard-struck Europe, nearly a quarter of UK business travelers are now eager to resume trips within a month. In Spain, business travel has been able to pick back up to 25 percent recovery followed by Germany at 12 percent.
Based on such trends, one of the more uplifting projections by industry experts is that business travel could bounce back to 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels by year’s end.
A New Look for Business Travel?
While news of an upcoming resurgence in business travel is no doubt a welcome turn of events, it does not necessarily mean that hoteliers can expect to return to how things were pre-COVID. More than a year of concern over germ exposure risks will still continue to play an oversized influence on where travelers opt to go and at which hotel they decide to stay.
Of particular note is a survey of 4,850 business travelers by Concur indicating that 96 percent will only resume traveling if sufficient safety measure are in place. A combination of 76 percent of industry experts further believe that health wellness will possibly or likely continue to grow in importance in order to attract business travel. This is why it will continue to remain essential for hotels to leverage any ongoing downtime to ensure that their operations have the necessary capabilities to improve and maintain guest trust. Contactless options will certainly continue to be expected, with business travelers indicating a strong preference for mobile solutions such as contactless payment and mobile check-in that would greatly enhance their confidence in resuming travel.
Yet another issue that hotels may have to contend with is fact that the rise in remote working has potentially led business travelers to favor virtual meetings over physical travel. But here to an answer may lie in developing new approaches that serve as an additional pull factor in attracting business traveler interest. One example is the concept of ‘bleisure’ travel, where a trip may initially be for work but later evolves into an opportunity to experience leisurely activities. A survey by Hilton Hotels & Resorts for instance, indicates that seven out of 10 business travelers aged between 25-30 actively seek out opportunities to extend business trips into mini vacations. This is certainly one area that hoteliers can take advantage of to market themselves as an ideal destination for both work and pleasure. Other hotels have further been experiencing some success in attracting remote workers to use their location as a quiet and convenient place that can replace office spaces.
As is often the case with the hospitality industry, hoteliers have routinely needed to adapt to conform to trends and outside factors that are beyond their control. Yet each time, the industry has proven its resilience in finding ways to always keep moving forward. While business travel may not ultimately return in the familiar shape that it once was, there is no reason to doubt that ingenuity of hoteliers will ultimately lead to return of their core guest demographic and continued business success.