Business travel may never fully come back and that could change travel for all of us

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Business travel is in many ways the lifeblood of the travel industry. Even if you only travel for leisure, the highly profitable business traveler affects every seat in the plane and every room in the hotel. But that traveler is dialing back, perhaps permanently. Now what?

Scott Hornick, partner, Oliver Wyman

Scot Hornick


Oliver Wyman

“Something in the range of a 10% to 25% reduction in business travel long term,” according to Scot Hornick, a partner at consultancy Oliver Wyman’s, which conducts Traveler Sentiment surveys of 2,500 business travelers. The trends identified help the firm inform its clients in the travel sector and supporting industries.

But business travel is far from monolithic, and Hornick points out stronger travel resumption plans among infrequent business travelers who have little travel to cut back on as well as “muddy boots” travelers, who ply skilled trades at work sites and don’t have the option to “zoom it in.” 

Even for those who can work remotely, the pandemic gave pause to some business travel habits that now seem extravagant at best and absurd at worst. “No longer would you see the investment banker flying across the Atlantic for a breakfast meeting at Heathrow and then flying right back,” says Hornick. 

All of which could leave some very pricey seats and rooms yawning for occupants. 

“We’re going to see travel companies take higher-end travel products and try to capture more leisure travelers with them,” says Hornick. “You may not have the same number of business class passengers as before, so how can you induce leisure class travelers to buy up to that product?”

united-polaris-seats-1

Tired of walking past Business Class seats to get to you crummy coach seat for a vacation flight? Airlines may soon have some offers you can’t refuse.


Kent German/CNET

Still, Hornick points out that the business travel trend line is much better than it was in 2020. Among respondents who said they will travel more in the future, 20% cited an effectiveness of teleconferencing, 18% said they simply can’t do their job remotely, and another 18% cited a job change into a role that requires more travel.

Hornick shared many nuanced insights into the trajectory of business travel with CNET’s Brian Cooley. Hear them all in the video. 

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