5 Business Travel Trends to Watch in 2020

January 7, 2020

Can business travel trends ever be accurately predicted?

A decade ago, many within the business travel industry were predicting a poor outlook, largely predicated on the global economic crisis of 2008. Hotels were selling off properties and airlines were consolidating. Travel suppliers pinned their hopes to new apps and technologies to drive travel and tourism.

As we open 2020, a look back at the last decade reveals the doomsayers were wrong.

Travel rebounded and even gained ground throughout the second decade of the twenty-first century.

While it may be impossible to predict with absolute certainty what will unfold in the travel industry in 2020, let alone the next decade, knowing what travel industry experts expect may help travel buyers and busy travel managers make more informed decisions about how to allocate their travel budgets.

Here are five 2020 travel trends worth paying attention to as you embark on a new year of business travel management.

2020 Business Travel Trends Worth Watching

If you had to sum up business travel expectations for 2020 in one word it would be growth. Numerous reports and industry experts predict a strong year for business travel sales as well as leisure travel and tourism.

Business Travel Outlook for the 2020 Election Year

#1 - Travel Will Stay Up, Despite it Being a U.S. Election Year

Virtuoso Senior VP, David Kolner, defied conventional wisdom earlier this year when he shared research indicating that travel will stay up in 2020, despite it being an election year. Typically, businesses remain conservative with their travel spending in election years, as was the case in 2008, 2012 and 2016, when average travel sales grew a meager 2.9 percent. Compare that with the 36.1 percent sales growth in pre-election years, and you can see why it’s somewhat surprising to see a prediction of growth in 2020.

Still, Kolner said advance bookings for 2020 were up in August of 2019. Add to that the American Society of Travel Advisors’ finding that 50 percent of travel advisors expect travel sales to be better this year than last and 2020 could be the year that bucks the election year downturn trend. 

Additionally, the Skift Global Travel Economy Outlook 2020 predicts travel growth will continue this year, with a positive outcome for international tourism. Expansion is expected in hospitality, online travel, international travel and airlines throughout 2020. 

What does all of this mean for travel managers? Be aware of the risks and your own budget limitations, but do what’s right for your organization and what’s necessary for growth.

#2 – Progress will be Made Within the NDC Standard

The New Distribution Capability (NDC) will continue to be a major topic of conversation in 2020 with airlines and distribution companies continuing to work on new solutions that take advantage of this framework.

While airlines have been changing how they present and distribute their content to customers and travel management companies over the past decade, tech companies and travel management companies haven’t always moved in the same direction as the airlines and individual countries. That is starting to change, which has travel advisors optimistic about the convenience and improved tools that could come to market in 2020 around advancements in the NDC.

Read more about what to expect with IATA’s NDC in Travel and Transport’s NDC Guide.

#3 - Global Travel Outlook Predicts Widespread Protests and Political Upheaval

WorldAware analysts make a living watching the world to identify issues that may disrupt business travel. For 2020, their Global Forecast report predicts the following issues to watch out for:

  • The proliferation of express kidnappings, especially in Latin America
  • Boeing 737 Max safety concerns
  • Rise of climate change activism
  • Widespread protests in Latin America (particularly Bolivia, Brazil and Chile) over government corruption
  • Business travel disruption fueled by Brexit negotiations and US/China trade conflict
  • Continued tension between the US and Iran
  • African elections spurring violence across Ethiopia

While every item on this list might make one choose to hold virtual business meetings over in-person ones, such a decision is unrealistic. Knowing the possible risks and mitigating them with effective travel policies that keep employees safe while traveling will help businesses move forward despite the potential threats.

Read the full WorldAware Global Forecast here.

#4 - Real ID Remains a Real Need with Real Deadlines

The Real ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, regulates which IDs are valid for access to federal facilities, nuclear power plants and federally-regulated commercial aircraft. On October 1, 2020, if you are a U.S. citizen that doesn’t have a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or passport, you won’t be able to get into a federal courthouse or fly, within the US.

Get a quick update on everything you need to know about Real ID here.

#5 – In-Person Meetings Matter More Than Ever

In an increasingly global economy and interconnected supply chain, the power of in-person meetings has never been stronger. In 2020, face-to-face meetings will continue to be necessary for cementing new business relationships.

Nicole Wilcock, Executive Director, Global Network for Radius Travel, says that businesses’ willingness to conduct virtual meetings varies by country and culture.

“Even in the US where people hold virtual meetings ubiquitously, there’s no substitute for face-to-face gatherings. Nuances in body language and expression are missed over email and phone. In some parts of Asia, Latin America and southern Europe, goodwill and trust are built face-to-face. Business simply will not move forward without in-person meetings where time is spent together building a relationship. In many parts of the world, understanding potential business partners’ backgrounds and families is essential to entering into business relationships.”

Wrapping it Up – What Still Matters to Business Travelers and Travel Managers in 2020

The things that mattered last year remain important today – business travelers, particularly road warriors who travel frequently, want convenience, ease and instant communication in their business travel tools. The same conveniences they experience as consumers on leisure travel are becoming increasingly expected when hitting the road for business.

Travel managers need to deliver a satisfying travel experience for their road warriors while balancing travel spend and driving compliance with travel policy. TMCs with platforms that help travelers and travel managers alike, will help businesses satisfy all key stakeholders in the year ahead.

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