The Return of Business Travel

Trends / Wellness
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Dec 7, 2022
Leisure travel is back—despite higher prices, Thanksgiving travel was nearly back to pre‑pandemic levels1—but, naturally, business travel has been slower to return. As Covid restrictions and concerns melted away over the course of 2022, our travel customers began using more visuals showing live events, concerts, nightlife, casinos, and business travel—those first activities to disappear proved the last to re‑emerge visually, too. Road trips, outdoor activities, and hiking are still popular, but customer searches for “business travel” (+27%) are now trending above expected and eclipsing interest in those pandemic‑era travel choices, indicating that our customers are eager to make up for lost time. This year, domestic business travel revenue was back up to 63% of where it was in 2019, and international trips were at 50%2; however, the outlook for 2023 is strong, with a projection that the industry will recover 85% of pre‑pandemic revenue levels.3 Even while leisure travel is expected to take a hit if the economy goes south next year,4 75% of global corporate travel buyers say they have no plans to cut back on spending in 2023, regardless of the economic outlook.5 But just like with leisure travel, it’s not simply back to business‑as‑usual. The pandemic has altered what business travel looks like, and what employers and employees want to see when considering whether to return.
Seeing the value of travel
As we emerged from Covid lockdowns in 2021, we wrote about the new travel values—but in 2023, with inflation and rising fuel costs, visuals will focus on highlighting the value of travel, especially when it comes to business travel. Now that employees are used to Zooming into meetings from across the world, the idea of a “boomerang” trip overseas for single day seems silly and may never return;for some, it’s hard to conceive of going into the office regularly, let alone the office on the other side of the ocean. But many employers and employees alike do see the value in gathering teams in person for longer summits where remote colleagues can have some face time. For some, even commuting to the office once a week or month could be considered business travel now, as many white‑collar employees have relocated. And even though many conferences are now live‑streamed, there is certainly a networking advantage to returning to them in person. Our VisualGPS consumer survey found that 6 in 10 Americans miss the social contact when they don’t go into the office. So to motivate both employers and employees to return to business travel, visualize the value that these in‑person connections bring, and reflect the reality of how some of these gatherings may happen now: more casually at the office, at an off‑site location, or new types of conferences.
Focus on the perks more than the hassles
Just as mental health in the workplace has been a focus of employers, it’s become the focus of business travel visuals, as well. In 2019, popular visuals representing business travel showed businesspeople in transit, dragging suitcases through the train station or airport, or talking to formally‑dressed colleagues in hotel lobbies. But in 2022, popular scenarios focus more on the cushier, less hectic aspects of business travel: relaxing in the hotel, video‑chatting with family back home, or taking a moment to enjoy the scenery or a nice breakfast. When 7 in 10 Americans agree that hybrid work allows for better work‑life balance, as our consumer survey found, it makes sense to visualize work‑life balance in the context of business travel, too. Remind employees how nice it is to expense a soft bed, indulge in a meal alone, or even squeeze in a sightseeing activity here or there.
A more seamless business casual
Business attire overall has become more casual over the past few years, even for many executives, but the suit is still a staple of business travel visuals in 2022. It’s understandable that our travel customers would want to distinguish clearly between work and leisure trips—but the reality is, the lines between work and life are now blurrier for most white‑collar workers now, even on the road. “Bleisure” emerged as a marketing portmanteau buzzword before the pandemic, but especially as travel prices become more expensive, the ability to extend a business trip for a few days of vacation seems even more appealing to employees.7 Likewise, with more employees extending vacations thanks to remote work, even travel companies offering rentals want to convey that they have business‑class amenities such as reliable wi‑fi. So even when representing business travel, consider visuals which reflect a more relaxed, self‑expressive dress code, and trust that consumers will identify with the update.
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