Global Business Travel Pricing Set to Increase in 2022

Airfare is expected to rise by 3.3 percent and transient hotel rates to shoot up by 13 percent, according to the forecast published by CWT and GBTA.

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Global travel pricing across air, hotels and ground transportation is expected to increase in the next two years, primarily driven by increasing demand, capacity constraints and travelers’ sustainability demands — as well as increased labor and fuel costs — according to the seventh annual Global Business Travel Forecast, published yesterday by CWT and the Global Business Travel Association. The forecast was released on the first day of the GBTA Convention 2021, currently taking place in Orlando.

“Business travel recovery is underway, and it is really great to see people reconnecting and engaging once again, as the world returns to a more traditional pace of life,” said CWT CEO Michelle McKinney Frymire. “While the best-case scenario for 2022 is for further recovery of business travel across all areas, not all markets, nor all categories, will recover at the same pace; so business travel managers will need to understand what to expect as we look at the year ahead.”

The 2022 Global Business Travel Forecast uses anonymized data generated by CWT and GBTA, with publicly available industry information, and econometric and statistical modeling developed by the Avrio Institute.

“As we turn toward recovery, insights and data will be critical to enable the business travel industry to navigate what will likely be a dynamic year ahead,” said GBTA CEO Suzanne Neufang. “This forecast is designed to help corporate travel buyers build and budget their 2022 travel programs through an informed summary of how the global pandemic influenced pricing in 2021, along with a detailed look at macroeconomic factors that will affect pricing in 2022."

Macroeconomic Influences

The global economy is expected to grow 5.9 percent in 2021, followed by 4.9 percent in 2022, spelling growth for business travel. However, several uncertainties remain on the periphery that could influence the macroeconomic outlook and the global travel economy.

Macroeconomic forces, government policy and Covid protocols will continue to impact future pricing. As with previous industry interruptions, many travelers won’t return immediately, and the business traveler may find themselves in a price competition with the leisure traveler — who is leading the recovery and willing to pay higher prices on key city routes and destinations.

Even as macroeconomic challenges remain acute, global economy growth expectations across 2022 and 2023 will help accelerate the recovery of business travel. Factors including a pickup in demand, capacity constraints, increased labor and fuel costs will lead to higher prices globally across air, hotel and ground transportation. Despite these anticipated rises, business travel pricing, with the exception of ground transportation, is unlikely to exceed 2019 pricing over the next two years.

Air

After rising 2.6 percent in 2019, airfares fell 3.1 percent in 2020 and a further 31 percent for business travelers. That was driven by a 38 percent decline in premium class, followed by nearly a 19 percent decline in economy class tickets, across 2021. However, airfares are expected to rise 3.3 percent in 2022 and 3.4 percent in 2023.

Airline capacity remains tight and is unlikely to return to prepandemic levels until 2023 or 2024. As a result, business travelers are competing for limited capacity with leisure travelers. This will continue to exert pressure on airfare prices in 2022, as they move in unison with demand. If demand increases faster than capacity returns, price increases could outpace these forecasted increases.

Premium fares are expected to start picking up in 2023 as demand normalizes, while economy fares, especially on domestic routes, will continue to benefit from strong gains in leisure traffic going into 2022.

Domestic leisure destinations will continue to lead recovery in 2022, and, while urban centers with strong corporate traffic will take longer to recover, higher vaccination levels should strengthen business traveler confidence.

Higher oil prices are increasing operating costs and will continue to put upward pressure on fares as airlines seek to improve profitability metrics. Corporate travel policies in 2022 will also be a factor in the recovery of airfare on corporate-heavy rates.

Hotel

After rising 3.5 percent in 2019, hotel prices fell 8.3 percent in 2020 and an additional 17.7 percent in 2021, with prices as of the third quarter this year down from 2019 levels by approximately 25 percent.

Although hotel prices are expected to rise 13 percent globally in 2022, followed by a further 10 percent in 2023, it will take some time for a return to 2019 levels in many markets. As borders open for nonessential travel occupancy rates will rise, putting upwards pressure on pricing; the coming year will see a push in that direction.

Upscale hotels should see higher occupancy levels and higher room rates, as business travel gains momentum. However, with higher global labor and operating costs and supply chain disruptions likely to continue, the rebound of hotel pricing to 2019 levels may fluctuate until these factors become more consistent.

Corporate meetings and events will also impact hotel pricing. CWT Meetings & Events anticipates that the bulk of immediate meeting bookings will be small and regional. Virtual and hybrid meetings played a leading role in 2021, while the overall meeting size of in-person gatherings dropped from an average of 42 attendees per meeting in 2019 and 2020, to 24 attendees in 2021.

Many organizations appear to be choosing smaller regional meetings, as opposed to larger events involving travel at the current time. But as restrictions lift and pent-up demand leads to more people traveling for meetings, that should change in 2022. Demand for meetings and events has increased 53 percent year-over-year for the first half of 2022.  

Ground Transportation

Global car rental prices fell 2 percent in 2020 and recovered 1.2 percent in 2021. Pricing is expected to increase 3.9 percent in 2022 and an additional 3.0 percent in 2023.

The restricted supply of new vehicles, combined with a boost in demand for rental vehicles, will drive higher price hikes in the short to medium term.

Providers are looking to update their fleets but with a shortfall in the used car market and issues with global car manufacturing due to shortages of semiconductor computer chips, fleets are unlikely to be fully replenished until 2023.

The availability of electric vehicles is also going to be pivotal over the next three years, with sustainability a key priority for employers and employees alike. Some providers are already making inroads towards electrifying their fleets, building their own charging infrastructure, and adding the booking of hybrid and e-vehicles to transfer and limousine services. 

Climate-conscious travelers may also choose rail over car rental (and short-haul flights) in increasing numbers. France has already moved to ban domestic flights on routes that can be travelled by train within two-and-a-half hours, and returning business travelers are being more conscious of their end-to-end travel time. The ability to work on the train is also a factor in moving away from rental cars and driving.

The complete 29-page report can be downloaded from the CWT site