Business travel expected to fully recover in 2024

In her forecast for the coming year, the Global Business Travel Association’s CEO, Suzanne Neufang provides insight on how the industry’s recovery will progress in the next 12 months.

This includes views on how the economy, current events, sustainable travel practices and technology factor into these predictions.

I’ll be honest—ever since 2020, I’ve been hesitant to get out my crystal ball and attempt to make predictions. After all, in December 2019 did we have any inkling what the year ahead would bring? But as someone who consistently looks to data for insights, like GBTA itself, I’m cautiously optimistic for 2024.

Business tourism rebounds

Business travel’s return to pre-pandemic levels will come in 2024, a finding outlined in the 2023 GBTA Business Travel Index.

Based on economic research across 72 countries and 44 industries (along with insights from 4,700 business travellers in 22 countries), the GBTA found the global business travel industry has rebounded in 2022 at a more accelerated rate than expected. It’s now expected to surpass its 2019 spending level of $1.4 trillion in 2024.

The three main reasons for this conclusion were varied, with respondents citing pent-up demand, especially for groups and meetings after the COVID-19 pandemic, more favorable global economic conditions in 2022 and 2023 and recession risks that have yet to happen (if ever).

The value of face-to-face

The industry also reports general optimism when asked more recently: GBTA’s most recent Business Travel Outlook Poll found that 67 per cent of travel buyers surveyed expect their travel budgets to increase or remain about the same in 2024.

What’s more, only one in 10 buyers report they are currently implementing a plan to limit business travel because of economic concerns. The findings are clear: despite rising costs and economic uncertainty, companies see value in face-to-face business interactions and are eager to continue getting travel back on track.

Emerging technology is trending

Another topic GBTA sees gaining even more traction in 2024 is emerging technology.

It’s increasingly clear that technology – from tools such as artificial intelligence to the implementation of new industry technologies related to New Distribution Capability (NDC) – is going to play a larger role in the future of business travel.

How large of a role remains to be seen, though, with sentiment from our industry survey split on its impact and implementation timelines.

While nearly half of the respondents in our GBTA poll feel new industry technologies will pose the most significant technological challenges in the year ahead, only about a third of all stakeholders are excited about AI, and another third feel it’s too early to predict its full impact.

Will there ever be a consensus (or at least a majority) on how emerging technology is viewed and used? The GBTA anticipates many approaches as it continues to evolve at a mind-bending pace.

People and planet

Last, we expect sustainability and conversations around people and planet will gain momentum in the coming year with the goal of producing real industry action.

The GBTA Foundation is starting with the collective procurement process to produce the industry’s first sustainable procurement criteria, beginning with education through its-ever first academy course centered on business travel management sustainability and tools.

“We have a long way to go before a business trip will be entirely net-zero, but our members are eager to get started on the planning, collaboration and collective innovation as soon as possible,” Neufang says.

GBTA will continue its ongoing commitment in 2024 and beyond to bring relevant and timely research and learning opportunities to the industry, while advocating for strengthening the managed business travel and meetings industry around the world.