Business travel spending around the world fell 8.8 percent in 2009, the largest drop the industry has seen since the recession in 2001 and following the events of 9/11, the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) says in a comprehensive report. However, economic recovery to date has surpassed expectations and, as a result, global business travel spending is projected to reach $896 billion in U.S. dollars this year and grow to $1.2 trillion by 2014, the NBTA says. The study was sponsored by Visa.
According to the report, while the world experienced the worst economic recession in 2008 to 2009 since World War II, the decline in business travel was worse in the recession of 2001. Business travel fell 11.5 percent in 2001 and strengthened by only 2 percent in 2002. Most of the 75 countries covered in the study faced worse declines in 2001 than in the “Great Recession” of 2009, including the United States (-9.4 percent vs –9.3 percent), despite experiencing two consecutive years of business travel spend loss in 2008 (-3.8 percent) and 2009 (-9.3 percent).
“Surprisingly and thankfully, while much of the world has just weathered a devastating recession, declines in business travel last year were not as detrimental as expected, positioning the industry to achieve a swifter recovery, which we are already seeing,” Craig Banikowski, NBTA president and CEO, said. “Air traffic is rising, along with average fares. Hotel occupancy, particularly in higher tiers, is also on the increase. However, while we believe recovery is sustainable, corporate travel managers and suppliers should be prepared for a bumpy ride.”
The study indicates that business travel recovery will not be uniform across the globe. Asia, LatinAmerica , and the Middle East are expected to grow more rapidly than North America and Europe. China, the only nation that grew business travel last year (8.5 percent), and other Asian markets currently add business travel spending at about four times the rate of the U.S. In fact, China is expected to grow by double digits in 2010 and add nearly $130 billion in new business travel spend by 2014, surpassing the U.S. market in size by as early as 2015.
“Visa values its relationship with the NBTA and believes that its new research and reporting on the travel marketplace will be a valuable tool for organizations throughout the industry,” said Rafael De la Vega, head of commercial solutions at Visa. “This report comes at an ideal time - when economies are fluctuating and corporate cultures are shifting. Visa is proud to help the NBTA offer this resource to corporate travel professionals and businesses around the world, providing an outlook to help both buyers and suppliers.”
Industry sectors reacted differently to the Great Recession, according to the study. After several years of double-digit growth because of a booming economy, business travel spend in utilities declined by almost 14 percent last year but is expected to rebound quickly in 2010. Real estate, one of the main drivers of the global recession, is predicted to bottom this year and begin to recover slowly. Business travel spending from the government sector, on the other hand, experienced no decline thanks to fiscal stimulus package, but is expected to grow slowly in the coming years.
Those with the largest projected increases in business travel spend over the next five years include: utilities ($38.2 billion), food processing and services ($32.2 billion), real estate ($23.2 billion), rubber and plastic manufacturing ($18.2 billion) and social and personal services ($17.9 billion).
“By analyzing travel spend and recovery by business sector, this report will help corporations determine the pace they should maintain in preparing travel programs for greater volume or more cost savings opportunity,” Banikowski commented. “Some industries, more than others, can realize from this report that an aggressive stance toward investing in business travel can grow top-line revenue.”
Global business travel air spending, comprising one-fourth of total trip spending, is estimated at $201 billion in 2009, down 13 percent from 2008. Business travel comprised 54 percent of total airline revenue in 2009, which is expected to fall this year as leisure travel begins to recover.
The study also found that business travelers are responsible for 14 percent of total global hotel and restaurant sales. In 2009, hotel, food and beverage spending comprised about 41 percent of the global