Business Travel

It is a critical moment for the business travel industry. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, global business tourism spending was thriving, with the U.S. and China being the two biggest markets. Hit hard by the health crisis, corporate travel will need time to adjust to a new normal.

Travel policies are changing according to the current scenario. Apart from considering new health and safety guidelines, the need for more flexible bookings is also an important topic, as prices of several business travel services are expected to change drastically during the pandemic.

In a gradual recovery dictated by proximity, companies are planning to resume domestic trips first, while interest in travel digitization is rising. However, as face-to-face meetings are considered a key element in this market, a phased rise in hybrid solutions seems more likely than a complete shift to virtual events.

Market size

Global spending reached its peak before the pandemic
Expenditure of business tourists worldwide from 2001 to 2021 (in billion U.S. dollars)
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Before being decimated by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, business travel spending worldwide increased steadily between 2015 and 2019. Overall, global expenditure on business trips has more than doubled since 2000, peaking at roughly 1.29 trillion U.S. dollars in 2019. In that year, the United States, China, and the European Union generated more than half of the total expenditure.

Business travel worldwide
Business travel in the United States
Business travel and exhibitions in China

Market segments

COVID-19 hit the exhibition industry hard
Growth of exhibition industry revenue in the United States from 1st quarter 2011 to 2nd quarter 2021
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In light of travel bans and safety measures adopted during the pandemic, most trade fair organizers and exhibition professionals had to cancel or reschedule events. In the first quarter of 2020, exhibition industry revenue in the United States dropped by roughly 15 percent over the same period in 2019. The number of attendees, exhibitors, and net square feet (NSF) also experienced a consistent decline.

Exhibition, Convention & Meeting Industry worldwide
Trade show marketing in the U.S. and worldwide
Trade show and event marketing worldwide

Industry trends

A step-by-step recovery, starting with domestic trips
Is your company planning to resume travel to the following destinations?
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While there is still uncertainty about travel planning, domestic trips will likely return faster than international ones. In an April 2021 survey, 37 percent of interviewed travel professionals claimed that companies are planning to resume domestic trips soon. Only 10 percent of the survey sample thought the same about international destinations.

Business travel worldwide
Strategic location priorities of the exhibition industry worldwide
Strategic activity priorities of the exhibition industry, by region

Industry leaders

Three companies lead the Travel Management market
Leading travel companies worldwide in 2019, by sales revenue (in billion U.S. dollars)
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In 2019, two online travel agencies topped the list of travel companies worldwide ranked by sales revenue. When focusing on the travel management market, America Express Global Business Travel recorded the highest value. BCD Travel and CWT were the other two major players in this segment. Aggregated sales of these three travel management companies (TMCs) reached over 86 billion U.S. dollars in 2019.

Online travel market
Travel agency industry worldwide
Travel companies worldwide

Regional overview

Most global business travel spending comes from U.S. and China
Business tourism spending of G20 countries in 2019 and 2020 (in billion U.S. dollars)
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In 2019, the United States and China alone generated more than 40 percent of global business travel spending. When also including the aggregated expenditure of EU countries, the share rises to over 60 percent. Overall, 30 percent of total tourism spending in the U.S. came from business tourism in 2019. In China, the expenditure on business trips accounted for 19 percent of total travel spending.

Business travel in the United States
Corporate travel and exhibition industry in China
Meetings industry in Europe

Industry Definition

Business travel is the branch of the tourism industry focusing on trips taken for business purposes. It comprises the segments of business travel accommodation, business travel spending, meetings and events. Business travel accommodation encompasses tourism establishments mainly dedicated to corporate travelers. This market particularly focuses on hotels. Business travel spending includes all expenses associated with trips, such as transport, accommodation, and food costs. The meetings and events sector covers meetings, conferences, exhibitions, and incentive travels.

To efficiently manage logistical and financial aspects of business travel, companies rely on travel managers, namely employees taking care of travel programs, travel policies, and travel & expense (T&E) reporting. Usually, big companies decide to outsource this job to so-called travel management companies (TMC). The main players in this field are American Express Global Business Travel, BCD Travel, and CWT.


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