Corporate travel expenses return, but the data is flawed

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Deloitte has released a report on the current state of corporate travel that outlines its path back to 2019 levels, however, a couple of points make it clear that the outlook for corporate travelers may not be what it seems.


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Deloitte Travel Forecast

Management consulting giant Deloitte has released a report on the state of corporate travel and the sector’s growth potential in 2022 and beyond. Overall, the pandemic and its delayed effects have significantly lowered corporate travel spending from 2019 levels. However, as the world recovers, so too is the business trip.

However, Deloitte shows that only 36% of 2019 spending has returned this year. The study polled corporate travel management experts and matched actual spending with expected spending. Most business travel programs spent much less than expected, and researchers expect that return to subside.

When Deloitte conducted its first corporate travel survey3 In June 2021, spending on corporate travel was around 10% of pandemic outbreak levels. But it looks like a bounce was around the corner. Vaccines have been widely available in the United States for a few months, and many companies plan to get employees back into offices by the fall.

A month later, Delta was named a different kind of concern, and several major companies backed away from their plans. The omicron variant follows the delta, which leads to further turbulence. Spending on corporate travel increased during the third and fourth quarters of 2021, but not at the rate that travel managers expected. When surveyed in June 2021, 34% of corporate travel managers expected to reach half of their 2019 travel spending by the end of 2021. However, only 8% did so[.]- Deloitte

metrics

The study used the sentiment of corporate travel managers and interviewed them with receipts of the same period. While many travel options expected a return sooner than they would (the US only lowered requirements for negative testing for COVID-19 today), even after that return, there are some issues with the report and its respondents anticipating it.

First, the metric is based on companies’ spending on travel and not on net trips booked. Here’s why that’s important. In 2019, hotel prices and airfares were much lower than they are now. Some hotel chains have reported a 25% increase in room rates, while others are still higher. Air travel has been at nosebleed altitudes for several months and is looking to continue at the same high level. If the measure depends on how much companies spend on travel, but all travel costs are above 2019 prices, a return of 36% of 2019 levels does not mean a return of 36% for corporate travelers, then this means that the recovery is closer to 25-27% (assuming 25 -30% premium on prices).

This is important because the number of passengers is more important than how much companies pay for those flights. why? Because general inflation means that these numbers do not matter as much as they did with respect to the pre-inflation numbers. Companies probably spend 36% of what they did in 2019 on travel, yes, but they are also likely to charge more for their products than they did in 2019 as well.

impending recession

A topic that has become more and more important in recent months is the impending recession. The forecast does not address any possibility of an economic downturn that would again suppress the entire travel sector but most companies tightening their belts. In an upcoming post, I quote Secretary Yellen who believes the United States has a path through the current economic headwinds and does not believe the United States is heading into a recession.

Many other experts disagree. The world’s largest banker, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, is one of those critics:

“You better prepare yourself,” Damon told the room full of analysts and investors. “JPMorgan is preparing ourselves and we are going to be very conservative with our balance sheet.” – CNBC

Damon is not alone. The Conference Board polled CEOs, with 68% believing the economy is heading into a recession, and 11% believing it will be a hard landing (a long-term and deep recession).

With more than two-thirds of CEOs preparing, preparing, and anticipating a slowdown, non-essential business travel will quickly take a back seat. CEOs who managed business in just 10% of travel in 2019 will return to this especially as costs continue to rise.

conclusion

Corporate travel may be making a comeback (without the level of service that prevailed before the pandemic) and while the concern is no longer about keeping travelers safe, trust should be shrinking, not increasing. Using the 2019 numbers (gas was nearly half of what it is today) is a poor yardstick to judge the return of corporate travel at any level. In addition, the failure to include recession pressures is another sign that even these modest increases and comically high projected growth numbers (nearly double current spending in the next 12 months) are unlikely to pay off.

what do you think? Is corporate travel back, or is it simply suffering from high prices and flawed data metrics?

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