Leisure travel demand has spearheaded the global recovery of travel but business travel, which has consistently lagged behind, is now closing the gap, according to global distribution system Sabre.
Speaking on a Q1 earnings call this week, Sabre CEO Sean Menke noted that corporate and international travel had rebounded sharply during the opening months of the year.
“The recovery which has historically been driven by domestic, leisure travel is being supported by strong improvements in both international and corporate travel. Accelerating activity in each of these sectors made April our best month compared to 2019 in terms of bookings recovery since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
The difference in recovery between Sabre’s ‘domestic TMC’ and ‘non-TMC’ bookings stood at 37 per cent a year ago in April 2021 but has now closed to just 7 per cent.
“The overall improvement in each global geographic region has been particularly positive, supported by a significant return of more profitable international and corporate travel,” said Menke.
"Although still below the total recovery of most other sectors, the financial, consulting and IT sectors, which are historically heavy travellers, ended Q1 accelerating rapidly, faster than at any point since the pandemic started. These sectors also ended the quarter at their highest levels of overall recovery since the pandemic began."
Sabre's distribution revenue increased 126 per cent year over year to $343 million in Q1, with total net bookings growing to 65 million – 42 per cent of the first-quarter 2019 total.
Speaking on a webinar later in the week for the launch of a new report, Mapping travel’s new normal, Sabre’s Andy Finkelstein, senior VP of global agency sales and corporate solutions said: “We’ve been waiting for this rebound to kick in. It’s going to be a competitive business environment and we’ll see a necessity for people to get back on the road conducting business. Showing up in person really counts.”
He continued: “Some companies are doubling down on having large corporate headquarters and on the other extreme you have the Airbnbs of the world and I think there’s a lot in the middle that are taking hybrid approaches to workplace settings.
“What’s true in all those circumstances is that there’s still the need and desire to connect and to drive company culture and the initiatives where collaboration is key. Companies are going to have to re-think internal travel policies both for what makes sense for the organisation but also for maintaining the right controls from a cost perspective.”
He added: “I think policy generally in a corporate environment is going to have to be a lot more dynamic than it has been in the past.”
The organisation’s survey of more than 500 travel leaders found two-thirds of respondents believe travel will fully return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2024, while one-third said it will happen in 2025 or beyond.
Meanwhile, 82 per cent of airline executives surveyed believe the combination of business and leisure trips to be even more prominent post-recovery.