AmEx report: Business travelers eager to get back on the road

The new Back to Blue Skies report from American Express and American Express Global Business Travel found that business travel is an important driver in building in-person connections, a company’s culture and career development, and can lead to increased profit and revenue. Corporate travelers and decision makers at U.S. businesses of all sizes and across a variety of industries participated in the survey, which highlights the sentiment around the benefits of business travel.

“Over the last year, we’ve heard from our clients, which range from small and mid-sized businesses to large and global corporations, that in-person connections cannot be replicated,” said Gunther Bright, EVP, global commercial services, American Express. “Our Back to Blue Skies report affirms this sentiment, suggesting that while some meetings are easily done virtually, others are much more valuable when they take place face-to-face. We expect many organizations will take a hybrid approach to doing business in the future, and we’ll continue to work to meet their needs as they return to business travel.”

“Decision makers are ready to get their employees back to blue skies safely and are optimistic that while business travel patterns might shift with a more dispersed workforce, volumes will return,” said David Reimer, EVP, global clients/general manager, American Express Global Business Travel. “As we’ve heard from clients and this survey confirmed, many corporate decision makers are looking for support on how they should evolve travel policies to drive employee confidence to get back to traveling for work.”

Key insights from the report:

  • 86% of business travelers surveyed said when it becomes safe, they are looking forward to getting back to business travel and 83% of decision makers are optimistic that business travel will return to previous levels over the next two years.
  • Nearly seven in 10 (69%) decision makers surveyed believe increased remote work will lead to more business travel in the future.
  • More than four in five decision makers surveyed said that business travel leads to higher profit (85%) and revenue (85%).
  • 85% of business travelers say when they’re exploring new job opportunities, the ability to travel for work is important. They cite business travel playing a valuable role in their professional development, helping them perform better at their job (82%) and giving them more job fulfillment (83%). 90% of decision makers agree that business travel helps advance employees’ professional growth.
  • Decision makers (88%) are as likely as business travelers (88%) to agree that business travel broadens cultural understanding.
  • 87% of decision makers cite business travel as a way to reinvigorate employee engagement.
  • Decision makers overwhelmingly agreed that business travel is important to attract (84%) and retain (83%) top talent.

Here’s a look at additional key findings from the report:

The power of in-person connections
The U.S. workforce is yearning for in-person business connections after an extended period of remote work and monotony.

  • 82% of business travelers and 79% of decision makers say the benefits of in-person meetings outweigh the convenience of virtual participation.
  • Four in five business travelers prefer in-person brainstorms and collaborative meetings over virtual ones (79%), as well as in-person sales meetings over virtual ones (78%).
  • Although the increased use of videoconferencing technologies has enabled connections over the past year, 60% of business travelers and 63% of decision makers believe creating valuable business relationships with others has been more difficult over the last year.
  • The top challenges for creating new business relationships virtually include assessing professional chemistry (56% of business travelers and 53% of decision makers), gauging real-time response (52% of both business travelers and decision makers) and lacking informal interactions with potential partners (57% of business travelers and 61% of decision makers).

Business travel builds company culture and careers
People are feeling the absence of business travel, as it plays a valuable role in a company’s culture and ability to provide career development opportunities.

  • 88% of business travelers believe business travel can contribute to stronger leadership skills.
  • Nearly all respondents cited business travel as benefiting company culture (87% of decision makers and 88% of business travelers).
  • Business travelers said business travel increases their engagement (88%), productivity (84%) and problem-solving skills (86%), and makes them more empathetic individuals (82%).
  • 88% of business travelers cited business travel as a way to fuel creativity and innovation. Business travelers also find work travel rewarding in that it gives them the opportunity to explore different cultures (58%) and viewpoints (55%) and pushes them to get out of the day-to-day monotony of their jobs and provides opportunities to get out of their comfort zone (55%).

What’s ahead for business travel
The return of business travel is on the horizon, with many saying it will likely look different when it returns. There is a desire to restructure and rebuild policies around what business travel will look like. Many decision makers (73%) are seeking guidance in revising their organization’s existing business travel policies to ensure employee safety, and 78% say their organization’s business travel policies will be different than they were pre-pandemic. As business travel returns, it’s encouraging to see that more than half of decision makers (56%) and half of business travelers (53%) believe it is important for their organization to prioritize travel companies that invest in sustainability.

  • 83% of decision makers are optimistic that business travel will return to previous levels over the next two years.
  • 85% of decision makers say they believe if an employee travels for work, their organization is responsible for their safety and well-being throughout the trip.