Predictions for business travel in 2024
As the new year begins, the landscape of business travel is set for an evolution. With the large-scale disruption of the pandemic now in the rearview mirror, the intersection of employee demand, changing technology and the globalized business environment is giving rise to trends that will change the way companies manage their employee travel programs. In this comprehensive overview, we give you our predictions for the shape of business travel in 2024 and beyond.
1. Business travel budgets will continue to rise
While business travel has faced enormous disruption since 2020, according to recent research quoted in Business Travel Executive from Morgan Stanley, business travel managers expect their travel budgets to rise in 2024 by an average of 8%, as expectations for virtual meetings decline. Overall, 78% of travel managers anticipated a growth in their travel budgets for this year compared to last. This marked the highest percentage recorded for this question in the survey since 2011. According to the Business Travel Index Outlook study by the Global Business Travel Association, spending on business travel globally is expected to hit $1.4 trillion in 2024 and over $1.8 trillion by 2027.
2. Employee demand for business travel will remain high
Recent research by Topia, ‘Adapt to the new realities of your distributed workforce’, based on a survey of 1,800 HR professionals and employees, revealed that employees are not only comfortable taking work trips, but the majority are keen to do so. 77% of employees say they are comfortable traveling domestically for work, while 74% say they are comfortable taking international business trips. In addition, a large proportion of employees actively want to take work trips, with 68% of workers wanting to travel domestically for work and 67% wanting to travel internationally. As in-person conferences, meetings and projects resume and companies seek to build face-to-face connections, organizations will likely be pleased to see the high levels of interest in business travel among employees and it is expected that this trend will continue in 2024.
3. Boundaries between business travel and remote work will blur even further
The dividing line between business and leisure travel has blurred, giving rise to new terminology such as ‘bleisure’, ‘workcations’ and ‘hush trips’ and this trend is likely to continue in 2024. Employees are increasingly keen to extend their business trips to explore new destinations or simply unwind. For instance, our research in 2023 revealed that 73% of employees want the option to add a ‘workcation’ onto their business travel. This typically means they want to remain in the location they’ve traveled to for an extended period, working their normal hours remotely from their new location and not using any PTO or annual leave. While this is in demand among employees, it does create a degree of complexity for the HR and travel teams who are tasked with managing the compliance issues that can arise when employees work in new locations.
4. There will be an ongoing focus on sustainable business travel practices
Sustainability is no longer an afterthought but a core consideration in business travel planning. As the world becomes more aware of the environmental impact of travel, businesses will increasingly prioritize sustainable travel options, such as hybrid or electric vehicles, public transportation, and carbon-offset programs and new remote and hybrid approaches to work are now being factored into ESG strategies. Our partners, SAP Concur, recently conducted research which found that business travelers are changing their behaviors to go ‘greener’ such as combining trips into one longer trip (such is the case with our previously mentioned ‘workcations’), prioritizing alternatives to air travel and trips with shorter distances and staying in a less preferred but greener hotel. Nearly one-quarter of business travelers (24%) surveyed would go so far as declining a business trip if it required using non-sustainable travel options. These trends are likely to continue in 2024 and beyond, as business travelers are also aligning their preferences with sustainable practices, signaling a collective commitment to responsible travel
5. Health and wellness will be more holistically integrated into business travel norms
Health and wellness is a top trend in the wider travel industry and this trend is sure to impact business travel in 2023. According to the Global Wellness Institute “wellness tourism” is expected to grow more than any other wellness sector, increasing by 21% by 2025 to become a $1.1 billion industry. Companies will increasingly incorporate wellness programs into their travel policies in 2024, for example by ensuring employees have access to fitness amenities and healthier meal options at accommodations while on the road. This trend reflects a growing awareness of the importance of employee well-being even while out of the office.
6. Companies will make increasing use of technology to streamline processes
Business travel processes will become more and more technology-driven, with innovative solutions for travel management, expense reporting, employee footprint reporting (and more), taking center stage. Businesses will rely on technology for managing logistics, helping them fulfill their duty of care responsibilities and making data-driven decisions about their corporate travel programs. With many travel and HR teams being asked to ‘do more with less’, technology provides a way to alleviate some of the burdens of manual processes and move towards more automated workflows which deliver more effectively against overall business objectives.
How companies approach business travel has undergone a huge transformation since 2020. As we begin 2024, we reflect on the changing landscape of business travel and distributed work and the trends that are set to shape the new year. Rising budgets mean that companies will be better placed to leverage the return of in-person conferences and face-to-face meetings and luckily, employees are happy and keen to travel, albeit with a preference for healthy and green options. New workplace practices such as ‘workcations’ and ‘bleisure’ mean additional complexity for HR and travel teams, many of which will make more use of technology solutions to better manage these practices in 2024. These trends are set to shape a more dynamic, efficient, and enjoyable experience for professionals on the move and companies that embrace change and leverage these trends are poised not just to survive, but to thrive in the ever-evolving realm of business travel.