2021 was a year of constant recalibration in the turbulent ground of the pandemic, with the incessant back-and-forth of the Covid-19 virus’ spread and variants upending everybody’s plans and forecasts. Still, if past is prologue, a review of the business travel industry’s top stories of 2021, as measured by the number of unique readers for each report, can only help prepare for 2022, a year starting off steeped in uncertainty and concern.
1. Business Travelers Facing a Potential Rental Car Shortage (Feb. 26)
BTN’s most-read report of 2021 was a warning to travel managers and travelers that a semiconductor shortage could affect the supply of cars available for rental later in the year. This proved prescient, although the reasons for the limited supply have evolved, as supply chain difficulties plagued many sectors in the latter half of the year. Travelers’ satisfaction with the sector has declined as a result.
2. Business Travel Has Peaked. Here’s Our Future (Jan. 22)
Scott Gillespie, founder of the tClara data consultancy, at the beginning of 2021 wrote an op-ed for BTN that declared “our industry will never return to its pre-Covid level” and that “we are entering a new paradigm, one grounded by questioning the need for travel.” Nearly 12 months later, the jury remains out, but Gillespie’s prediction hasn’t been proven wrong, either. Gillespie later in 2021 suggested allowing business-class travel for everyone to limit lower-value trips.
3. American Express GBT Agrees to Buy Egencia (May 4)
Arguably the business travel industry’s biggest deal was American Express Global Business Travel’s acquisition of Egencia from Expedia. After the deal was finalized in December, Amex GBT announced it would go public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company. The deals weren’t Amex GBT’s only M&A moves of 2021, as the travel management company announced the acquisition of Ovation Travel Group in 2021. The moves heralded a spate of TMC consolidation during the year.
Who Bought Whom in 2021
4. After Brexit, Major Restrictions Hit EU-U.K. Business Travel (Dec. 31, 2020)
Fudging the rules a bit to include a report posted in the final hours of 2020, BTN noted the post-Brexit trade agreement between the United Kingdom and European Union held significant implications for business travel. Perhaps most notably, work permits would be required for some short-term business travelers, raising the level of attention and paperwork required for even quick travel. A subsequent report detailed the tumult, mitigated to a point by limited pandemic-era business travel demand
5. U.K. Says It Will Ease Quarantine for U.S., Other Arrivals (June 25)
The government-mandated quarantines and limits on international travel frustrated many corners of the industry at times of 2021, particularly after Covid-19 vaccines became widely available in the spring. While airlines explored testing protocols to avoid quarantines and touted studies that vouched for the safety of air travel, it still took the United Kingdom until late summer to allow fully vaccinated U.S. residents to visit without quarantine. It would take a bit longer for the U.S. to do likewise.
6. U.S. Commerce Secretary Calls Corp. Travel Restart ‘Top Priority,’ Details Few (June 23)
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in June during an American Hotel & Lodging Association webinar said restarting business and international the Biden administration’s “top priority.” But one month later, the administration indicated it would maintain such restrictions. Only in November would the U.S. begin to allow fully vaccinated visitors from the U.K., Europe and elsewhere the ability to enter without quarantine.
7. GBTA Looks to 2025 for Business Travel Recovery (Feb. 3)
Few activities are as fraught with uncertainty as forecasting future business travel demand amid the pandemic. The challenges of returning to offices in schools as new variants emerge substantially complicate any efforts to project the future, as do the evolving notion of the workplace and changing attitudes toward remote conferencing. The Global Business Travel Association suggested 2025 could represent something of a full return to normalcy, at least in terms of business travel volume.
8. U.S. Tightens International Travel Protocols, Extends Mask Mandate (Dec. 2)
The omicron variant of Covid-19 emerged in late November and has proved the major story in the business travel industry since. The very transmissible variant has wreaked havoc on flight schedules, closed some schools and offices and caused some corporations to reconsider travel plans. Evidence points to possibly milder infections due to omicron, offering the industry something of a silver lining.
9. Corporate Travel Prepares for Post-Vaccine Realities (April 8)
The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines proved a turning point in the pandemic’s role in travel, with leisure travel spiking and business travel just beginning to recover. But vaccine refusal and hesitancy remained in a minority of the population, and some buyers began to consider the possibility that they could restrict business travel to the vaccinated. Later in the year, this proved to be the case.
10. Companies Pumping the Brakes on Return to Travel (Aug. 26)
Before the omicron variant of Covid-19, there was the delta variant, a notably lethal mutation that challenged the nascent recovery of business travel as it expanded worldwide in the late summer. It’s yet unclear how omicron will affect delta, but some scientists have pointed to the possibility that the latter could be outcompeted by its milder cousin.
Bonus! 11. Strong Demand for Meeting Space Could Trigger 2022 ‘Compression’ (July 13)
The pre-delta excitement over the possibility of in-person events that coursed through some businesses in the early summer led to speculation about the meetings buying environment in 2022 and beyond. With much pent-up demand and many buyers targeting the latter half of this year, suppliers could have a measure of pricing power they haven’t seen since before the pandemic.
BTN’s 25 Most Influential of 2021