The future is beaming brighter for in-person professional meetings and events, with a recent Q1 2022 survey revealing that 84% of American business travelers expect to take at least one trip to attend conferences, conventions or trade shows in the next six months. The survey, which had more than 2,500 respondents, also found that less than one in 10 business travelers are uncertain if they would travel in the next six months and that business travelers expect to resume traveling at a slightly slower pace compared to pre-pandemic levels, averaging about 1.6 trips per month (compared to 1.7 monthly trips pre-pandemic).
The new Quarterly Business Travel Tracker, spearheaded by Tourism Economics and conducted by J.D. Power Travel and Hospitality Intelligence in collaboration with the U.S. Travel Association, aims to monitor U.S. business travel conditions as the industry rebuilds from historic pandemic lows. The release of the survey findings corresponded to Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) on April 7, when organizations around the world spotlighted the tremendous positive impact created by business meetings, trade shows, incentive travel, exhibitions, conferences and conventions on people, businesses and the economy.
Powered by U.S. Travel Association and the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, GMID had special significance this year, as the meeting and events industry moves beyond the pandemic and returns to in-person events. “The return of in-person meetings and events—and business travel in general—is a welcome sight after more than two years of pandemic-related uncertainty,” said U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow. “There is simply no substitute for a face-to-face meeting, which is proven to lead to more fruitful business opportunities and can help power an economic and jobs recovery in communities across America.”
While U.S. Travel forecasts that business travel spending was still down 60% from pre-pandemic levels in 2021, the Quarterly Business Travel Tracker’s latest data shows a clear shift in business travelers’ desire to return to in-person meetings.
The following aspects of professional meetings and events were considered most crucial to job performance by those surveyed, according to J.D. Power.
- Developing relationships with customers, suppliers and others
- Closing sales
- Building awareness of their organization’s products or services
- Professional development, including training
- Engagement and motivation as an employee
- Understanding current trends
“In-person [events] have relational and financial impacts to corporations that are significant,” said Andrea Stokes, practice lead for hospitality at J.D. Power. “Nearly half of survey respondents indicated that conferences, conventions and trade shows are critical to developing relationships with customers, suppliers or others. Nearly one in four respondents indicated these events are critical to closing sales.”
While the data shows a strong desire from business travelers to hit the road again, there is a big difference between willingness to travel and actually taking a trip, according to Dow.
“Corporate leaders should seize the competitive advantage, budget for business travel and encourage their teams to get back on the road and re-establish those personal connections that only come with face-to-face interactions,” he said.
Another component of the Quarterly Business Travel Tracker shows that while business travel activity slowed somewhat in Q1 2022, business conditions for travel such as GDP and business investment are quite favorable, reaching an index of 105 for Q2 2022 (compared to 100 in 2019).
Meanwhile, U.S. Travel has been strongly urging federal lawmakers to advance policies to accelerate the recovery of the meetings and events sector. For example, it has called on Congress to enact policies to help revive business travel spending in restaurants and entertainment venues, while also urging the Biden administration to remove remaining travel restrictions to facilitate a faster return to international business travel.