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Business Travel On The Upswing But Remains A Shadow Of Its Pre-Pandemic Self

Business travel, a linchpin for the hotel sector, remains at 70% or more below pre-pandemic levels, but there are signs that business travelers are taking to the skies again in larger numbers, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing data from U.S. airlines.

The collection of hotel towers in Dallas’ Deep Elllum entertainment district.

“They’re getting their office opened, feeling comfortable with that as the first steps, and then travel comes after that,” American Airlines Group Chief Customer Officer Alison Taylor told the WSJ, noting that 47 of the airline’s 50 largest corporate accounts will travel again this year.

The full rebound is going to take some time. Business travel should be at 70% to 75% of 2019 levels by the end of 2021, Hilton Hotels & Resorts Chief Financial Officer Kevin Jacobs told Yahoo Finance in late May

Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta told CNBC on Tuesday that business travel will probably make a full recovery to 2019 levels by 2023 and grow from there. He reported that the hotel chain enjoyed strong bookings over the Memorial Day weekend, though that represents mostly leisure travelers.

Hotels have begun responding to the uptick in leisure travelers and the prospect of renewed business travel. On Thursday, the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Boston will reopen after being closed since March 2020. Massachusetts lifted the last of the Covid-19 restrictions on hotels in the commonwealth ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

There is also increasing sentiment among business travelers that they will soon return in force. In May, the Global Business Travel Association released the results of its most recent survey of business travel attitudes, which found that about 3 in 4 GBTA buyer and procurement respondents (74%) said their employees are willing or very willing to undertake business travel in the current environment. Even more GBTA member respondents (78%) felt the same way.

More than half of all the respondents (55%) said that the single greatest barrier to business travel now is government policies that restrict travel or otherwise make it difficult, such as entry restrictions or quarantines. Company policies restricting traveling were cited by 23% and travel budget cuts were cited by 11% as the greatest obstacle. Few (7%) said that employees are unwilling to travel.

“It’s reassuring to see so much momentum for a return to business travel, with more optimism, willingness to travel and an increase in bookings," GBTA CEO Suzanne Neufang said in a statement. "Government policies remain the greatest obstacle to opening travel, particularly in the UK, Europe and Canada."