GBTA: Omicron causes business travel industry concerns

The recent emergence and yet-unknown trajectory of a new COVID-19 variant is the latest development on the road to recovery for the business travel industry. Due to the Omicron variant, many business travel practitioners are concerned about the potential economic impacts in the industry. Most companies, however, are taking a wait-and-see approach before introducing new restrictions or requirements for business travel as a result of the Omicron variant. Additionally, a clear majority feel countries should require international visitors to prove they are fully vaccinated, and that pre-trip negative tests should be required regardless of vaccination status.

This is according to the latest poll from The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). Earlier this month, the association surveyed its membership of global travel buyers, suppliers and other industry stakeholders to gauge current sentiment around the COVID-19 Omicron variant and any early effects on the business travel industry.

“As we move through the pandemic, I think this shows the business travel industry is taking a thoughtful, informed and adaptive approach even as new variants may emerge,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA. “Without clear scientific data, we know knee-jerk restrictions on travel do not generate an effective outcome and taking actions such as border closures and frequently changing entry rules only add to the confusion. Companies and travelers are better equipped now with policies and processes to safely mitigate risk and support traveling, as long as testing and vaccines remain a part of the equation.”

Here are some of the highlights from the recent GBTA Omicron variant poll:

Concern about the Omicron variant is apparent among the global business travel industry respondents, most notably in terms of potential economic impacts.

  • Eight in ten (82%) respondents are concerned or very concerned about the revenue impact companies in the business travel sector due to Omicron.
  • Seven in ten (69%) report they are concerned in some capacity about employment and (re)hiring in the sector and six in ten (61%) are concerned about the safety of business travel.
  • The Omicron variant has likely impacted at least a portion of bookings for business travel suppliers and TMCs. One in three (37%) report their bookings have decreased, while a third (35%) say their company’s bookings have remained the same.
  • When compared to an August 2021 GBTA poll about the Delta variant, while there was a similar level of concern around revenue-specific impacts across the two variants, the Omicron variant is causing less concern around safety of resuming travel or employment/rehiring. In the August poll about the Delta variant, 85% of respondents reported being concerned or very concerned about revenue impact, 79% in terms of employment/rehiring and 78% in terms of safety of business travel.

On a global basis, there are indicators of a more wait-and-see approach to introducing new restrictions or requirements for business travel and companies are continuing with current plans when it comes to the return to business travel.

  • Half (53%) report their company is unlikely to introduce new restrictions due to the Omicron variant, while one in five (19%) report their company has not introduced new restrictions but is considering doing so.
  • Less than a fifth (17%) of respondents state their company introduced new restrictions on non-essential business travel or new requirements related to business travel due to Omicron.

However, in Europe, there are indicators of more concern around revenue impact and more caution by the introduction of new travel restrictions.

  • Respondents based in Europe (90%) are more likely to say they are concerned or very concerned about the revenue impact to companies in the business travel sector due to Omicron compared to those based in North America (79%).
  • Travel supplier respondents in Europe (61%) are more likely to report their bookings have decreased compared to respondents in North America (29%).
  • While still far fewer than half, Europe-based respondents (32%) are much more likely than North America-based buyers to say they have introduced new restrictions (12%).

A large majority of global business travel professionals support vaccination requirements and testing for international travel.

  • Two-thirds of respondents (66%) feel countries should require international visitors to prove they are fully vaccinated, compared to 16% who feel countries should allow unvaccinated international visitors.
  • Respondents feel that countries should require pre-trip negative tests for all international visitors even if they have been fully vaccinated (60%). However, one in three (30%) support a negative test requirement only if the traveler is unvaccinated.

The GBTA Omicron variant poll was conducted Dec. 6-12 and a total of 732 responses were received. Survey details can be viewed here.