Covid-19: Business events to take off by Q3 2021

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After a year of never-before seen disruption to the travel industry, there is light at the end of the tunnel as the world begins to vaccinate millions of people in the fight against Covid-19.

So much so that the business travel community predicts business events and face to face meetings to surge in 2021, especially during the second half of the year.

That is according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the world’s largest business travel association, who has released the results of its latest COVID-19 Member Poll.

The survey – the 14th such poll by GBTA since the onset of the pandemic to measure the impact on business travel – has found that three out of four respondents expect employees to attend in-person meetings/events in Q2 or Q3 2021, with 89% of respondents set to attend an in-person meeting or event with attendees outside their company by Q3 2021.

Nearly nine in ten (87%) of respondents said they expect to attend internal company meetings or events in person by Q3 2021. As attendance at in-person events increase through the year, attendance at hybrid meetings is expected to decline as 2021 unfolds.

Dave Hilfman, the interim Executive Director of GBTA, said: “What we’re seeing in this latest poll is a number of reasons for the business travel industry to be optimistic about 2021, especially toward the middle of the year.

“As the vaccine rollout gains momentum and if we see a corresponding drop in positive COVID-19 test results, this survey suggests something of a return to personal connections and in-person meetings and events in the business space.”

With the roll out of the Pfizer vaccine, and the nearing of the Moderna, and AstraZeneca Three inoculations, 59% of GBTA members said vaccine availability is a ‘significant’ factor in their company’s decision to resume business travel. One in four (23%) said it is a ‘moderate’ factor, while one in ten (14%) were unsure of the impact the vaccine will have on the resumption of business travel.

However, despite the vaccine being rolled out in the US and Europe over the past few weeks, many GBTA member companies were largely unsure about their company’s position concerning vaccine availability and the resumption of business travel, according to the poll.

Half (54%) reported they are unsure about their company’s position, whereas one in five (20%) said their employees will be permitted to travel for work when the employee and a significant portion of the population have been vaccinated. An additional one in five (16%) employees will be permitted to travel for work once a significant portion of the population has been vaccinated. One in ten (10%) say their employees will be permitted to travel for work when they have been vaccinated.

Elsewhere, two in five (39%) GBTA members/stakeholders added that their company has begun to plan hosting or attending meetings and/or events for 2021, while half (50%) have yet to start, and one in ten (11%) are unsure of their plans.

As many as 55% of GBTA members and stakeholders in Europe said their company has begun planning 2021 meetings and/or events, while 36% of North America respondents said the same. Of those who reported their company is planning to host/attend 2021 meetings and/or events, more than half are planning to host/attend small to mid-sized meetings or events with up to 500 attendees.

Buyers and procurement professionals expect 2021 business travel spend to be lower than it was in 2019. Nine out of ten (90%) said 2021 business travel spend will be lower compared to 2019 and only 5% expected 2021 travel spend to be the same as 2019. Broken down by region, 98% of buyers and procurement professionals based in Europe and 90% in North America expect 2021 business travel spend to be lower than it was in 2019.

When asked where travel savings would be made, comparing travel spend in 2019 versus 2021, travel buyers and procurement professionals estimated that there would be a decline in the percentage spent on internal meetings, conferences and trade shows (regardless the amount of funds allocated for 2021 business travel), but an increase in percentage spent on sales meetings and service trips with current and prospective customers.