A report issued by the Travel Industry Association April 16 found that, "if leisure travel has been the relative star, business travel has been the black hole in the domestic travel constellation." Business travel in the U.S. was down 9 percent from 2002 over 2000, with 5.5 percent of the decline occurring between 2001 and 2002. Blame it on the economy, the worst two-year decline in capital spending since World War II, and slow GDP growth due to a war-induced stifling of consumer and business spending, says the TIA report.
But there may be a bright spot or two, according to a Business Travel Coalition survey released April 23. While the business travel outlook still is bleak (only 10 percent said they planned to travel more this year than last, while 19 percent said they will travel less), the winding down of the war with Iraq is bringing some good news. The BTC survey found that 38 percent of the 18 percent of companies who had banned international travel due to the war are now letting their employees travel again, and 54 percent said they are considering lifting the bans.
Still, BTC predicts that "it could take many, many months" before international travel policies return to pre-war levels, "if it ever does." Reasons cited include "health and legal liability issues associated with SARS; the continuing sluggishness of the U.S. economy; and the negative economic implications of SARS."
However, 75 percent of those who earlier had said that their companies had adjusted domestic U.S. travel policy have now returned to their normal policies, which could signal a relatively quick rebound for domestic business travel. The TIA report also predicts that the U.S. economy will grow in the second half of the year now that the war is winding down and consumer confidence—and spending—is beginning to increase.
But, the TIA report states, "It is not likely that we will see the volume of the hey-days of the late 1990s again for quite some time to come considering the major changes that have occurred in business travel policies and the success of new technologies to substitute for at least some business trips."