COVID-19 Delta variant slows business travel in September

Companies are canceling business trips and keeping their employees close to home as the Delta variant rages on.

September marks the beginning of the busy corporate travel season, but many companies are having second thoughts about sending their workers on planes, especially as they delay their return to work dates.

Some 60 percent of business travelers said they are likely to postpone their travel plans and 67 percent said they are likely to take fewer trips, according to a report by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, which conducted a survey in August involving 400 business travelers.

Corporate travel returned to about 40 percent of its pre-pandemic levels this summer, according to Delta Airlines, which had expected it to reach 60 percent by September.

“We won’t be at 60 percent,” Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian told The Wall Street Journal.

A Bloomberg survey of 45 large businesses in the US, Europe and Asia shows that 84% plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic. 

According to Delta Airlines, business travel returned to about 40 percent this summer. With many opting to stay at home.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett
Despite the increase in vaccinations, the CDC asked people to limit travel through Labor Day to prevent massive crowds at airports.
Despite the increase in vaccinations, the CDC asked people to limit travel through Labor Day to prevent massive crowds at airports.
Noam Galai/Getty Images

Business travelers are the most lucrative customers. They buy more expensive refundable tickets and accounted for as much as three-quarters of airlines’ pre-pandemic profits, according to Bloomberg, while accounting for only 12% of the seats.

Airline executives have reported an increase in the number of cancellations and a slowdown in the number of new bookings, according to reports.

Compounding the concern is a warning by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for non-vaccinated people to forego travel over the Labor Day holiday weekend and for vaccinated people to consider the “risks” of their plans as well.

Delta has said that it has seen an uptick in the number of cancellations and slow down in bookings.
Delta has said that it has seen an uptick in the number of cancellations and slow down in bookings.
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

The European Union also recommended that its members limit non-essential travel from the US, while Denmark and the Netherlands banned Americans from entering.

Among the companies limiting business travel are Dell Technologies, which sent a memo to its employees in August explaining that domestic travel has to be “critical” to the company’s business and customers and receive approval from an employee’s manager and vice president, according to The Journal, while software company Citrix Systems told the publication that travel remains “very, very limited.”

Bastian, of Delta, maintains that travel will eventually pick up again. “There’s no evidence that it’s going to disappear in any material way,” according to the report.