The pandemic knocked out business travel — now its future is up in the air

The pandemic wiped out business travel, and new technology makes it unlikely it’ll ever get back to pre-pandemic levels.


September 10, 2021

Photo: Getty archives

Prior to the pandemic, business travel made up as much as 75% of airlines’ profits. Those days are likely over.

A Bloomberg survey of 45 major global companies found that 84% expect to scale back business travel after the pandemic.

While Zoom fatigue is definitely real…

… the rise of video conferencing has proven not all meetings need to happen in person. Executives are citing a long list of benefits to cutting back, including:

  • Cost savings: Virtual meetings mean no need to spend on flights or hotels.
  • Environmental impact: Less air travel means less CO2 emissions, helping firms reach sustainability targets.
  • Employee well-being: A recent study found that frequent fliers shared the same cancer risks as obese people.

This is all unfortunate news for the airlines, which lost $126B in 2020 and expect to lose another $48B this year.

However, not all meetings are created equal

According to consulting firm AlixPartners, reasons for business travel are broken down across the following categories:

  • 30% customer support
  • 25% sales and business development
  • 20% trade shows and conferences
  • 20% internal meetings and training
  • 5% commuting

Airline executives are optimistic that the biggest cuts will come from internal meetings rather than trips supporting customer relationships.

While business travel may never return…

…to pre-pandemic levels, it will remain a massive cost center. The Global Business Travel Association estimates that, at worst, business travel will generate $1.24T by 2024 (down from $1.43T in 2019).

That’s reassuring news for airlines and hotels, which rely on business travel for ~⅔ of revenue.

While some travelers are itching to get back, those who aren’t can thank Zoom for sparing them some jet lag.

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