Leisure travel is back to pre-pandemic levels. But business travel? Not even close.

Cecilia Nysing

For two days leading into this holiday weekend — Thursday and Friday — the number of passengers cleared through TSA airport-security checkpoints actually surpassed the totals back in 2019. 

It’s the first time that’s happened since the pandemic hit. And, Triple-A predicted overall travel this weekend — flying and road-trips – would nearly be back to 2019 levels.

But, one crucial piece of this travel recovery is still lagging – badly – so far: Business travel.

Business travel is still down as much as 50% from pre-pandemic levels, and that matters to airlines and hotel chains.

“They make up 10 to 15% of travelers, but they can contribute up to 75% for a company’s revenues,” said Joanna Piacenza at Morning Consult.

They buy premium air tickets at the last minute, book hotel suites, dine out on expense accounts. Morning Consult finds three in 10 pre-pandemic business travelers aren’t planning a trip this year.  

Alan Lewis at consulting firm L.E.K. said some of that’s thanks to “lessons-learned” during the pandemic:

“Technology — Zoom and Teams — will replace some meetings that would have occurred live, going forward,” he said.

Lewis said other kinds of travel resistance come from management and employees.  

“CFOs have been able to reduce their travel budgets. Reopening those purse strings will take time. The productivity that people have discovered — they’ve found that they can be more productive by not investing time in travel,” he said.

On the flip-side, said Madhu Unnikrishnan at Airline Weekly, the new, post-pandemic way we work might boost some domestic business travel: 

“Instead of having people come into an office every day, they may have sort-of an off-site every quarter or every month,” Unnikrishnan said, adding that the big question is this: Can these new remote white-collar road warriors replace the big-spending executives who used to book business-class tickets to London at the last minute — for lunch?

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