Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, global corporate travel spending declined by 59%, heavily impacting the travel and tourism sector worldwide.
In 2021, we saw the start of the recovery for the business travel sector, which grew by 31% compared to 2020, according to WTTC’s Economic Impact Research (2022).
The Global Consumer Trends Report, titled ‘A World in Motion’, compiled by Trip.com Group, the World Travel and Tourism Council, and Deloitte, stated that 58% of respondents who required business travel said they were likely to take a business trip between October and December 2022. This represents an improvement compared to the previous year, when only 51% said they would likely take a business trip.
Trip.com Group data provides further evidence of this return to business travel with Trip.Biz, the Trip.com Group corporate travel arm, reporting an increase of 134% in 2022 flight bookings, and its accommodation bookings more than double (156%) that of 2019.
A shift to more sustainable business travel
Business travellers want transparency when it comes to flight carbon emissions data. Trip.Biz has integrated the Travalyst Aviation Framework on emissions data to make informed, sustainable travel decisions, giving clients a complete picture of their aviation emissions.
Sustainable travel options also appears to grow among corporate travellers. One example is American Express Global Business Travel – a significant player in the business travel segment – which has used carbon credits to help offset the flights its employees took since 2019.
Other companies are increasingly following suit, and for employees, it is an essential factor that must be considered when making business travel plans.
This was evidenced in a Trip.Biz survey, which showed that 53% of business travellers had consciously tried to adopt more sustainable practices. Their efforts ranged from reducing hotel water use to bringing reusable items like toothbrushes.
Combining work and leisure
The return of business travel has started, and with it comes the potential to once again generate a large proportion of business traffic and high-spending visitors. While this is encouraging, we increasingly see more people combine ‘work and play’ by taking time out of a business trip to explore neighbouring areas.
Since the re-emergence of business travel post COVID-19, blended travel – or ‘bleisure’ – has risen in popularity thanks to the widespread adoption of remote and hybrid working formats.
A Trip.Biz survey (2021/2022) reported that 70% of travel managers support the idea of mixing leisure with business trips. This has resulted in higher employee satisfaction and greater workforce retention, with employers keen to leverage this new travelling notion.
The rise of ‘bleisure’ has also contributed to the increase in the overall average length of stay for travellers, and in 2019, the average duration for a round-trip booked on Trip.com was nine days. In 2022, this increased to around 14 days.
Steven Zhang, Trip.com Group Chief Executive Officer of Corporate Travel, said: “The pandemic has changed how people think of business travel. People are more determined not to leave a country without visiting important sites or incorporating relaxing elements into their business trips.
“Years ago, people may not have spoken of this openly, but naming something does bring awareness to the trend.”
Data from ForwardKeys (2023) shows a similar trend to Trip.com Group data, with the average length of stay up from 11 days in 2019 to 14 days in 2022 (based on arrivals from January to December 2022).
Long stays (a fortnight or more) jumped from 20% of all bookings in 2019 to 26% in 2022. Although this trend varied across different regions, there were considerably more significant increases in Asia-Pacific and North America compared to areas such as the Caribbean and the Middle East.
In response to this trend, the travel industry is adapting to suit the ‘bleisure’ customer by offering new services and amenities that make it easier for this group to transition between work and relaxation.
Trip.Biz has seen first-hand the growing demand for ‘bleisure’ trips, so much so that it provides a ‘personal trips’ option for corporate travel users, a function brought to market last year, complete with discounts and promotional offers.
As a result, last summer, month-on-month personal trip bookings on the corporate travel platform doubled. The number of business trip users viewing personal trip products increased by nearly 60% in July alone.
Incentivising longer stays
Governments across the world are also taking advantage of the growing trend towards blended trips by introducing specialist visas, also known as ‘digital nomad’ visas.
These allow overseas visitors to work remotely in a country for an extended period, usually tax-free.
Barbados, for example, rolled out the ‘Barbados Welcome Stamp’, allowing people to live and work remotely for 12 months without being subject to local income tax regulations. There are currently over 50 countries worldwide, including Bali, Croatia, Dubai, and Iceland, all offering these types of visas, with the expectation that their adoption will grow.
The growth of transformational travel, such as ‘bleisure’, has given rise to new opportunities for the global travel and tourism sector. This, in turn, has led to the development of new products and services to cater for these new travellers.
The range of travel options better reflects travellers’ interests, beliefs and attitudes, and they are redefining their work-life balance through blended travel.
With predictions that blended travel will only increase, Trip.com Group is helping shape the portfolio of travel products available to ‘bleisure’ travellers to ensure this important demographic is catered for in the future.