Business Travel Resumes, Though Not at Its Former Pace

ByGeraldine R. Pleasant

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Mr. Harteveldt was more optimistic about the prospects for business travel. “If developed countries’ economies remain strong and the war in Ukraine doesn’t spread, then the business travel industry will have a good fall and winter,” he said, “and 2023 will be a good, possibly great, year for it.”

The renewed hope contrasts sharply with the mood two years ago, after most business trips were abruptly canceled or suspended. The U.S. Travel Association, a trade group, said that in 2020, domestic business travel spending was down 68 percent from 2019 levels. And while the spending grew in 2021, the group said, it was still about half of what it was in 2019.

But by last month, Suzanne Neufang, chief executive of the Global Business Travel Association, said, the association was seeing “significant gains in the return of business travel, especially over the past month or two.”

One active business traveler is Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association in Washington, who has been traveling extensively since last July for conventions, trade shows and speaking engagements.

He has 11 trips planned between now and the end of September, which, he said, “feels like a lot, more now than what I did before the pandemic, in part because I want to meet with partners and people whom I haven’t seen in two and a half years.”

He added, “We’re catching up.”

In recent earnings calls, the major U.S. airlines all reported upticks in their business travel bookings. American Airlines, for one, said its business demand had already recovered to 80 percent of 2019 levels.

United said that its business travel bookings were “rapidly returning,” but that they had not fully recovered. It also said it was finding no “meaningful recovery in business traffic” in Asia, where strict coronavirus restrictions are still in place in countries like China and Japan.