Border closures weigh on Asia recovery: GBTA

Continuing Covid travel restrictions having a lagging effect on business travel spending in region – but full recovery expected in 2024

BUSINESS recovery in Asia Pacific is being slowed by “lagging border re-openings” despite the region depending on international corporate travel to help drive a company’s growth, according to a summary of the latest results in the GBTA’s BTI Outlook index.

The Global Business Travel Association’s report expected growth in China was downgraded in 2020 due to “financial and other issues which could signal larger risks”.

Hong Kong steered its opening-up policy to giving priority to border access with mainland China after government ministers ditched a travel-bubble with Singapore due to Covid surges in both cities. Singapore is meanwhile adopting a “living with Covid” strategy with a safe re-opening of business events and travel between designated cities deemed to be lower risk.

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Developments in China that have affected international business confidence include the Evergrande debt crisis, a tightening of rules surrounding the country’s digital commerce giants and an easing of economic growth. These, however, were not cited in the latest GBTA report.

“Business travel recovery in 2021 proceeded at a slower, more cautionary pace than expected from a year ago. However, global business travel spending is expected to surge in 2022 with full recovery expected in 2024 – ending the year on pace with the 2019 pre-pandemic spend of $1.4 trillion, and a year sooner than previously forecast,” says GBTA in a report on the BTI Outlook findings.

The BTI Outlook is an annual indepth study of business travel spending and growth covering 73 countries across 44 industries. First-time additions this year include survey insights from global senior financial executives as well as business travellers.

Forecasts and analysis highlights from the latest BTI Outlook (in US dollars):

  • Global business travel activity has begun its rebound from the sharp downturn brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. After declining 53.8% in 2020 to $661 billion, global expenditures are expected to have rebounded 14% in 2021 to $754 billion. This was more slowly than forecast in GBTA’s previous BTI Outlook report issued in February of this year.
  • Despite recovery setbacks in 2021, a year-over-year surge of 38% is expected in 2022 as recovery and pent-up demand kicks into a higher gear, bringing global business travel spending back to over $1 trillion.
  • Recovery will continue into 2023, with global spending rising 23% year-over-year as even more international and group travel comes back online.
  • By 2024, global business travel is forecast to have made a full recovery, ending the year at $1.48 trillion or just above the 2019 pre-pandemic spend of $1.4 trillion.
  • In 2025, global business travel growth is forecast to slow to 4.3%–just below the 10-year average growth rate of 5.1% coming into 2020–ending the year at a forecasted $1.5 trillion.

However, persistent Covid-related threats and disruptions, supply chain strains, labour shortages, rising inflation, increased costs, and lagging recovery in Asian markets are just a few of the risks cited for continued on-target recovery.

“Of any year we’ve issued the BTI Outlook forecast, this one was the most anticipated and it’s no surprise,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO for GBTA. “The business travel industry recognises there are factors, related to COVID-19 and beyond, that could impact the road ahead over the coming years.

“However, there is optimism overall as the industry, companies and travellers worldwide lean into recovery and the much-needed return to business travel.”

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