A New Road Ahead: 2021 Business Travel Forecast

It’s a new road ahead for corporate travel in 2021. Thanks in part to the global distribution of vaccines, continued rollout of rapid testing, and the introduction of digital health passports. many of the roadblocks and stalls of 2020 are officially in the rearview mirror. If you’re wondering how these changes will impact your corporate travel program, we’ve mapped out our forecast for 2021 below.

Vaccines Inspire Traveler Confidence

Predictions of who will receive vaccine shots and when remain largely dependent on country distribution, profession, and individual health factors. For some frequent road warriors, that may mean waiting until the second half of 2021.

While healthy and able-bodied business travelers may be waitlisted in the interim, the development and distribution of vaccines still bodes well for travel. On a broader level, vaccinated healthcare professionals will be better positioned to support those who contract COVID-19, which mean less strain on hospital systems and potentially lessened travel restrictions as a result. Additionally, the vaccination of at-risk populations, such as the elderly and immunocompromised, will further ease concerns for vulnerable health systems and communities.

These developments also play an important part in the recovery process by instilling traveler confidence. According to a recent survey by GTBA, 61 percent of travelers indicated that a vaccine would make them more likely to resume business travel and another 23 percent identified a COVID-19 vaccine as a moderate factor. Essentially, the existence of an effective vaccine buoys an organization’s likelihood to travel even if its rollout is still ongoing. This traveler confidence is backed by scientific studies, which pinpoint the importance of vaccination for achieving herd immunity levels to allow for wide scale travel and in-person events.

Standardized Safety Requirements

Some COVID-19 restrictions and precautions will likely recede in 2021, but the safety precautions created in response to the pandemic are here to stay. Even with vaccinations increasing, expect masks and testing to remain a travel standard across the industry for the time being.

Travel Again, a council formed of travel experts, has identified standardized requirements as one of three pillars of recovery framework (unsurprisingly, traveler confidence is another). Early on in 2020, travel requirements and PPE expectations varied based on supplier policies and individual jurisdictions. This has shifted as rapid testing has become more and more widespread—the goal being the eventual elimination of most cases of traveler quarantine.

Global health passports like the CommonPass app are also expected to make waves in 2021. Backed by IATA, CommonPass provides a standard platform for verifying and displaying health factors surrounding an individual traveler. Think of it like a digital “yellow card”—the slip of paper long used by some countries to verify vaccination against certain diseases such as Yellow Fever. Except unlike a piece of paper, these apps can hold additional information about COVID-19 test results and vaccination records, taking the burden of verification off individual suppliers and organizations. Although nascent health passports still have a ways to go before widespread adoption, they signal a new approach that does not rely on piecemeal verification.

Sustained, Steady Progress

With clear safety measures established to boost traveler confidence, business travel will progress on a steady path upwards over the course of 2021. This is thanks in part to the hard lessons learned in 2020. The travel industry has shown an increased resilience against disruptions that will allow for growth in spite of new outbreaks that may occur.

Recent research from a variety of sources seems to support this conclusion. The US Travel Association projects a 23.2 percent increase in overall domestic travel spending in 2021, followed by a 25.5% increase in 2022. On the corporate travel front, a year-end study from travel and tourism experts MMGY Global suggests that 57 percent of business travelers intend to take a trip in the first sixth months of 2021. Meanwhile, most event and meeting planners are looking to the second half of the year to fully resume in-person events.

There undoubtedly will be a few stops and stalls, particularly as countries begin to lift border restrictions. For instance, after a new strain of COVID-19 was uncovered in the UK, France closed its borders, only to reopen them later with new parameters. The 5,000-mile US-Canada border isn’t expected to fully reopen until later this spring, approximately a year after the restrictions first went into effect.

Prepare Your Program

The road ahead in 2021 is still being plotted out, but it's important to use this time to prepare your travel program through a variety of measures, including implementing new travel policies and precautions, utilizing tools and technology tailored to your program, and collaboration with your Travel Management Company.

Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing blog articles and resources designed to help you jumpstart your business travel for the year ahead and ready your travelers in the process. If you haven't already, make sure to subscribe to the Navigator Blog to get the latest info delivered directly to your inbox.