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Corporate travel and exhibition industry in China - statistics & facts

As the economic ties between countries were strengthening, work travel was on the rise for many years before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, global business travel spending amounted to approximately 1.3 trillion U.S. dollars. China overtook the United States as the top business travel market in 2017, contributing some 346 billion U.S. dollars of corporate travel spending, which was a quarter of the global sum. Part of the growth has been driven by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a long-term economic project linking China with over 100 countries through trading and investment on infrastructure, transportation, and energy. Clearly, China was expanding its footprint in the global business arena, and international business travel management companies (TMC) were eager to grab a slice of this lucrative market.

Business travel management

Managed business travel in China was never as mature as in other markets. Flight tickets and hotel reservations accounted for the major market transaction share. The growing market has attracted online travel agencies and portals to enter the battlefield, making travel planning and booking especially convenient for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). A large majority of businesses used mobile apps for travel bookings both pre-pandemic and in 2021. To compete with the online platforms, more TMCs have developed a one-stop service with smart cost control systems. It suffices to say the travel management sector still has plenty room to grow in China.

Trade exhibitions

Apart from corporate travel, the Chinese exhibition sector was in constant growth before 2020, in both domestic and overseas regions. Ever since 2012, the number of trade exhibitions in China was increasing by at least several hundred each year. In 2019, over 11 thousand trade exhibitions were held in 292 exhibition venues, with another 24 venues under construction. In terms of exhibition space, Shanghai and Guangzhou have always been the leading trade show hosts in the country. Chinese companies have set up their footage in international exhibitions, too. In 2019, organizers from China held a total of 137 trade exhibitions in other countries.

Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in early 2020, corporate travel came to a standstill. That year, China lost over 400 billion U.S. dollars in business travel spend revenue, more than the rest of the Asia Pacific, Europe, and the Americas combined. Number of trade exhibitions in China fell to less than a half of that in 2019. The pandemic pushed many trade fairs and business events to become fully digitalized.

In 2021, China’s business travel market rebounded with an impressive expenditure growth of more than 30 percent thanks to a recovery of the domestic corporate travel. However, international trips have not picked up due to border restrictions and quarantine policies. The overall business travel industry in China is predicted to reach pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

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