CWT: Global business travel pricing set to increase in 2022

Sara G. Norris

Global travel pricing across hotels, air and ground is expected to increase in the next two years, primarily driven by increasing demand, capacity constraints and travelers’ sustainability demands, plus increased labor and fuel costs, according to the seventh annual Global Business Travel Forecast from CWT and the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

“Business travel recovery is underway, and it is really great to see people reconnecting and engaging once again, as the world returns to a more traditional pace of life,” said Michelle McKinney Frymire, CEO, CWT. “While the best-case scenario for 2022 is for further recovery of business travel across all areas, not all markets, nor all categories, will recover at the same pace, so business travel managers will need to understand what to expect as we look at the year ahead.”

The 2022 Global Business Travel Forecast uses anonymized data generated by CWT and GBTA, with publicly available industry information and econometric and statistical modeling developed by the Avrio Institute.

“As we turn toward recovery, insights and data will be critical to enable the business travel industry to navigate what will likely be a dynamic year ahead,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA. “This forecast is designed to help corporate travel buyers build and budget their 2022 travel programs through an informed summary of how the global pandemic influenced pricing in 2021, along with a detailed look at macroeconomic factors that will affect pricing in 2022.”

Macroeconomic influences
The global economy is expected to grow 5.9% in 2021, followed by a 4.9% increase in 2022, spelling growth for business travel. However, several uncertainties remain on the periphery that could influence the macroeconomic outlook and the global travel economy.

Macroeconomic forces, government policy and COVID protocols will continue to impact future pricing more than ever before. As with previous industry interruptions, many travelers won’t return immediately, and business travelers may find themselves in a price competition with leisure travelers, who are leading the recovery and willing to pay higher prices on key city routes and destinations.

Even as macroeconomic challenges remain acute, global economy growth expectations across 2022 and 2023 will help accelerate the recovery of business travel. Factors including a pick-up in demand, capacity constraints, increased labor and fuel costs will lead to higher prices globally across hotel, air and ground transportation. Despite these anticipated rises, business travel pricing, with the exception of ground transportation, is unlikely to exceed 2019 pricing over the next two years.

After rising 3.5% in 2019, hotel prices fell 8.3% in 2020 and an additional 17.7% in 2021, with prices as of Q3 2021 down from 2019 levels by approximately 25%.

Although hotel prices are expected to rise 13% globally in 2022, followed by a further 10% in 2023, it will take some time for a return to 2019 levels in many markets. As borders open for non-essential travel, occupancy rates will rise, putting upwards pressure on pricing and 2022 will see a push in that direction.

Upscale hotels should see higher occupancy levels and higher room rates, as business travel gains momentum. However, with higher global labor and operating costs and supply chain disruptions likely to continue, the firming of hotel pricing to 2019 levels may fluctuate until these factors become more consistent.

Corporate meetings & events will also help impact hotel pricing, and CWT Meetings & Events anticipates that the bulk of immediate meeting bookings will be small and regional. Virtual and hybrid meetings played a leading role in 2021, while the overall meeting size of live meetings dropped from an average of 42 attendees per meeting in 2019 and 2020 to an average of 24 in 2021.

Many organizations appear to be choosing smaller regional meetings as opposed to larger events involving travel at the current time; however, as restrictions lift and pent-up demand leads to more people traveling for meetings, that looks set to change in 2022. Demand for meetings and events has increased 53% for the first half of 2022 from 2021.

After rising 2.6% in 2019, airfares fell 3.1% in 2020 and a further 31% for business travelers, led by a 38% decline in premium class, followed by nearly a 19% decline in economy class tickets across 2021. However, airfares are expected to rise 3.3% in 2022 and 3.4% in 2023.

Airline capacity remains tight and is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023 or 2024. As a result, business travelers are competing for limited capacity with leisure travelers. This will continue to exert pressure on airfare prices in 2022, as they move in unison with demand. If demand increases faster than capacity returns, price increases could outpace these forecasted increases.

Premium fares are expected to start picking up in 2023 as demand normalizes, while economy fares, especially on domestic routes, will continue to benefit from strong gains in leisure traffic going into 2022.

Domestic leisure destinations will continue to lead recovery in 2022 and, while urban centers with strong corporate traffic will take longer to recover, higher vaccination levels should strengthen business traveler confidence.

Higher oil prices increase operating costs, and will continue to put upward pressure on fares as airlines seek to improve profitability metrics, and 2022 corporate travel policies will also be a factor in the recovery of airfare on corporate-heavy rates.

Ground transportation
Global car rental prices fell 2% in 2020 and recovered 1.2% in 2021, and pricing is expected to increase 3.9% in 2022 and an additional 3.0% in 2023.

The restricted supply of new vehicles, combined with a boost in demand for rental vehicles, will drive higher price rises in the short- to medium-term.

Providers are looking to update their fleet as a matter of urgency, but with a shortfall in the used car market and issues with global car manufacturing due to shortages of semiconductor computer chips, fleets are unlikely to be fully replenished until 2023.

The offer of electric vehicles is also going to be pivotal over the next three years, with sustainability a key priority for employers and employees alike. Some providers are already making in-roads towards electrifying their fleet, building their own charging infrastructure and adding the booking of hybrid and e-vehicles to transfer and limousine services.

Climate-conscious travelers may also choose rail over car rental (and short-haul flights) in increasing numbers. France has already moved to ban domestic flights on routes that can be traveled by train within two-and-a-half hours, and returning business travelers are being more conscious of their end-to-end travel time—plus the ability to work on the train which is obviously not possible when renting a vehicle.

CWT: Global business travel pricing set to increase in 2022

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