What impact will 2024 have on the global trajectory of business travel, considering the trends of 2023?

Let’s start with a fact: the business travel sector in Europe is experiencing a post-Covid recovery with expectations of significant growth. According to a recent GBTA report, spending on business travel in Europe is projected to reach $414.9 billion by 2025, surpassing 2019 levels of $391.9 billion, while some analyses indicate that pre-pandemic values will be exceeded already in 2024. In all this, Europe shows the highest growth rate of any region in the world, with Western Europe accounting for 88% of business travel spending on the continent.

The business travel sector is thus entering 2024 with a considerable amount of optimism, as confirmed by the research conducted for American Express by diciottofebbraio. 63% of respondents stated that they look positively towards the future and expect to return to pre-pandemic levels soon, even surpassing them in the medium term. Giovanni Speranza, VP Cards Sales & Insurance at American Express, declared that 76.8% of respondents affirm that business travel volumes and spending in their companies are increasing compared to 2022 and are expected to continue throughout 2023 and beyond.  

Indeed, forecasts from the 2023 GBTA Business Travel Index™ Outlook – Annual Global Report and Forecast by GBTA in collaboration with Visa suggest that global spending will recover to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2024, faster than the previous projection of mid-2026 in last year’s BTI Outlook.

Given this rapid growth and optimistic outlook for the future, what can be expected in 2024? According to recent research and reports, here are the main trends and predictions for the coming year:

  • Importance of In-Person Meetings and ROI
  • Hyperinflation and Rising Rates
  • Increased Budgets for Companies
  • Travel experience
  • Bleisure
  • Sustainability and Decarbonization

Let’s explore them in detail.

Importance of In-Person Meetings and ROI

One thing on which all forecasts for 2024 agree is the significance placed on face-to-face meetings for effectively concluding business deals. Companies and employees recognize the advantage of personal connections, leading to an increase in travel related to internal meetings and training events.

Accor’s analysis, “Accor’s Meetings & Events Industry Forecast,” highlights how each trip is carefully evaluated in terms of return on investment for companies – without a return, there is no trip. However, 33% of organizers anticipate revenues exceeding 40% more in face-to-face meetings compared to virtual ones, and the majority (80%) would not be content using video conferencing to finalize deals in 2024.

This explains why budgets for corporate travel are on the rise: 67% of travel buyers anticipate an increase in budgets for 2024, signaling that companies are willing to invest in group travel and in-person meetings, despite global economic challenges.

Hyperinflation and Rising Rates

Budget increases, however, do not solely arise from the strong return to in-person meetings but are also attributed to the so-called “hyperinflation” affecting the industry. In 2020, travel service providers suffered massive losses, and it’s not surprising that the travel industry – particularly the European hotel sector – is seeking to recover lost ground with interest. Companies will need to adjust their travel policies to cope with this inflation affecting all segments, from luxury to budget accommodations.

Increased Budgets for Companies

These increases, however, have already been anticipated by companies. A survey conducted by GBTA revealed that approximately 44% of surveyed professionals – including travel managers and decision-makers – indicated that their company’s travel budget for 2024 would be higher than the previous year. Moreover, an additional 5% foresee a significant budget increase, at least 25% higher than 2023. These data suggest that, despite global economic concerns, companies do not plan to restrict business travel. In fact, only 14% have implemented plans to limit business travel, while another 25% are considering limitations but have not made a final decision. This attitude reflects an optimistic outlook for recovery and confidence in the potential of business travel as a key tool for corporate activities.

Travel experience

However, the increase in budget should not only be interpreted as a rise in the volume of business travel. In a global survey conducted by the Accor Group, 46% of respondents confirmed the prioritization of “travel experience” and the intention not to restrict their business travels in the future. This emphasizes the importance of a satisfying travel experience even in the corporate context.

Overall, companies and travel managers still consider traveler satisfaction important. Rather than making cuts, the focus should be on seeking better services and investing in advanced technologies to ensure the safety of employees during travel and provide personalized services.

The use of corporate credit cards also comes into play to enable simpler, faster, and more accurate expense reporting. However, there is still much work to be done in this regard, as only 12% of European business travelers use it for all travel expenses. Despite 69% having loaded their card onto a mobile wallet, they only use it for 10% of their business transactions.

It seems that the quality of the journey significantly impacts decision-making, and this aspect, now considered a priority, will contribute to influencing the decision to invest in more satisfying business travels.

Bleisure

In 2023, looking towards 2024, there is a renewed emphasis on the “bleisure” phenomenon, which continues to gain popularity among business travelers, with 62% of them more frequently combining business and leisure trips compared to 2019. A notable trend is the 42% who add leisure days to their business trips, highlighting a growing desire to mix business with pleasure. Even more interesting is the data showing that 79% of these travelers choose the same accommodation for both the business and leisure parts of their trip.

The dynamics of “bleisure” continue to grow in Italy as well, as confirmed by Accor’s results. In 2022, 67% of respondents extended the duration of their business stays, a tangible sign of the increasing adoption of this practice. In the Italian context, Accor noted that spending levels align with pre-pandemic ones, suggesting that the “bleisure” trend is not only steadily increasing but is also becoming a well-established practice in our country.

In practice, in this case as well, there is a return to a cost-benefit evaluation for the company: some companies encourage it as it allows for booking more cost-effective travel solutions, while others discourage it, thinking it may lead to increased costs.

Sustainability

Regardless of all current trends, sustainability remains a priority in the business travel landscape, as highlighted by almost all recent reports.

According to Accor, a significant 54% of corporate travelers place carbon emissions at the forefront of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) issues. The sustainable performance of providers, particularly concerning sourcing and hotel selection by 2024, is considered of utmost importance during the booking process.

Furthermore, the Freenow and GBTA report reveals that approximately 40% of European travel managers have stated that their companies now prefer more eco-friendly transportation options compared to 2019. This shift towards sustainability is evident in the choices of eco-friendly vehicles and increased use of public transportation, car-sharing, e-scooters, and e-bikes.

An encouraging fact is that customers are willing to invest more in accommodations in exchange for a positive environmental impact, confirming a growing awareness and commitment to sustainability in the industry.

Major airlines such as American, Delta, Southwest, and United have all set the goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The focus is entirely on the concrete introduction of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), to the extent that the European Union has mandated that SAF constitute at least 6% of the fuel supplied at airports within the bloc by 2030, with the share rising to 70% by 2050. In fact, Air France-KLM already uses more than four times the SAF compared to United, and many airlines are banking on SAF as they anticipate flying to countries that will adopt emissions restrictions. Others are exploring alternative propulsion technologies, investing in companies developing batteries, hydrogen engines, and electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.

At the end of November, Virgin Atlantic achieved a historic milestone with the first transatlantic flight from London to New York powered entirely by SAF, highlighting the ongoing commitment of the aviation industry in the fight against climate change.

Italy is also making moves in this direction: Aeroporti di Roma, with the support of various ministries and ENAC, has established an observatory on the decarbonization of air transport. Their goal is to promote the transition to climate neutrality for the entire sector by 2050, focusing on both new propulsion technologies and air-train intermodality in travel.

Meanwhile, the focus for companies is primarily on the green travel policy as a tool for cultural change. While waiting for service providers to align with sustainability needs, increasingly green criteria, such as the use of trains for short trips, will be introduced into travel policies.

Sustainability remains one of the fundamental pillars in the business travel sector, both for travelers seeking concrete solutions and for travel providers adapting to regulations.

BizAway and Trends for 2024

The BizAway observatory on the evolution of business travel from 2023 to 2024 is certainly distinctive, given the company’s significant growth in recent years.

BizAway has indeed solidified its leadership position in the business travel sector, experiencing significant growth throughout 2023. Taking a strategic step towards global expansion, the company has recently opened a new office in Dubai. Additionally, it has taken a major leap forward in strengthening its presence and offering increasingly comprehensive services by acquiring the business travel branch of NGT. This acquisition reinforces its ability to provide integrated and tailored solutions for the evolving needs of companies, affirming its commitment to ensuring superior support in the ever-complex landscape of business travel. BizAway has not only expanded its reach but has also bolstered its team, increasing from 86 employees in 2022 to over 260 in 2023. This significant personnel growth reflects the company’s continuous commitment to providing superior-quality services and addressing the growing demands of the business travel market.

However, analyzing our historical clients confirms the overall sector’s growth trend. Compared to 2022, in 2023, the business travel expenditure of these companies increased by approximately 30%, with a year-on-year rise in the number of bookings by about 20%. 

Therefore, despite inflation, companies accelerated their business travel efforts, significantly increasing the volume.

BizAway has encouraged this recovery by focusing on a continual improvement of the “travel experience,” providing solutions that contribute to ensuring more satisfying and flexible business travels. This is facilitated by its extensive inventory of choices and a range of services aimed at streamlining all the steps involved in a business trip.

At the beginning of 2023, for example, BizAway introduced BizzyFlex, a feature allowing flexibility for all business travels. Companies can cancel any booking with a 10% fee, without providing explanations, and receive an 80% refund of the booking cost.

Throughout the year, numerous integrations with railway providers were introduced to enable companies to access as many sustainable options as possible (in addition to the platform’s existing capability to offset emissions through a partnership with the Eden Reforestation Project).

Financial management of trips has been enriched with various payment options (including credit card, PayPal, American Express BTA, bank transfer, Airplus), with more to be added in the coming months.

The platform’s flexibility also integrates with the growing practice of “bleisure.” BizAway offers companies the option to use the platform for their employees’ personal travels as well. Through this feature, employees have access to exclusive rates and can benefit from the platform’s 24/7 support. An additional advantage is that using the platform for personal travels imposes zero additional costs for the company, contributing to more efficient management of employees’ travel needs. Finally, BizAway actively engages in sustainability, responding to the industry’s growing environmental sensitivity. As a B-corp, BizAway considers travelers’ environmental impact concerns, giving them the option to fully offset their own bookings. 2023 has been an exceptional year for BizAway, marked by a broader geographic presence and the expansion of our team. We are excited to offer even more advanced and personalized solutions, confirming our commitment to lead innovation in the business travel sector,” declares Luca Carlucci, CEO of BizAway.

In conclusion, BizAway is the ideal strategic partner evolving alongside the continuously transforming dynamics of business travel, providing flexible and cutting-edge solutions for companies embracing the future of business travel.